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Bamboo Weavers in Pernem

Client: South Asian Foundation

Year of Project: 2011

Brief: Product development in Bamboo at Virnoda

Process: Most craft related design work starts from understanding materials and skills involved. This was not very different. While I had worked with bamboo before, this was the first time I was working with artisans in Goa. So, I decided to understand the variety of bamboo used by people in Virnoda. This was also my fist time working with basketry as my previous work in Tripura was in Furniture making. I developed products that were variations of the products that the women were already adept at making. This was followed by adding value using locally available simple materials like colored wool, bulb holders.

To work with women artisans of Virnoda in Pernem was a great opportunity and a challenge at the same time. The skill levels of all fifteen women were quite varied. A few were skilled, but most of them were beginners. This made group-work difficult and each one had to be assigned different products according to the skill level suited to that person.

The focus of the workshop was to develop products using the available skill set and locally available materials. Therefore whatever value additions and variations that were made to the existing products did not disturb the existing work ecosystem. The intention was to keep the goals realistic and to encourage the artisans to continue working in this sector without having to worry about sourcing materials from far off cities.

The workshop was an initiative of South Asia Foundation. It aimed at product development by involving designers and artisans to share their expertise on a common platform. The research at various stages revealed concerns towards the functioning of self-help groups, financing and coordination, lack of education, material procurement, issues concerning quality and finally lack of market links. These concerns make ground realities different from what we set out with.

A link to the complete report given below.

virnoda bamboo workshop
Download PDF • 6.68MB

If I were to share my experience apart from design and bamboo, I could fill a book!

I was welcomed on the first day by the villagers inside a home laid out neatly with Nilkamal chairs, a few speeches delivered and the sweetest welcome song by school children. This was truly heart warming. I was an urban young woman entering the world of women who were mostly confined to home, had barely any opportunity to visit a city even within Goa. And I was amazed by the skill of the older women, their choice of rich vibrant colors, the effortlessness with which they kept weaving baskets. The women made up for the lack of exposure with their curiosity about the world through me. I was asked questions about how I landed up in their village, where I grew up, studied, what is design and a lot about my domestic life, if I was married, if I had children, why I didn't have children, if I could cook, and if I will remember them once the workshop wrapped up. Well, after 12 years, I am writing about them and still remember them fondly by their first names. While we all saw that being women we had much in common, I remained a source of amusement for the month that I spent in Virnoda.

The last day of the workshop was ceremonious. I planned an exhibition in the hut that we had used for a month. The idea of using the hut for the workshop was mine, when we realized that we didn't have any space to carry out the work. While they were hesitant and somewhat ashamed of the mud floor and poky rooms, it made me even more convinced that the space would work wonders. And it did. On the last day we lit it up with the lamps that the women had made. For the first time, the men of the village showed up to see what we had been upto and while they were mostly shy about speaking, some of them applauded our efforts. They also finally got to meet my mystery man, and we were overcome by emotions, making it hard to say goodbyes. Some of the younger girls called many times after the workshop and occasionally I called them to wish on festivals, but slowly we lost touch. The few times I have crossed the turn to Virnoda, I have wondered if they remember me. One day, some day, I will go back and find out.

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