Indian lessons for Kenyan bead weavers (With Image)January 8th, 2012 - 2:47 pm ICT by IANS
New Delhi, Jan 8 (IANS) The chill still hangs heavy in the air - misting the brick and mortar facade of Dilli Haat in the capital. It is almost noon. Comrades in-arms Jennifer Mulli and Millicent Seela, both from Kenya, are inured to the mist or the freezing bite in the air.Their nimble fingers fly on swathes of Indian hand-woven silks as they learn their first needle strokes of the traditional kantha - a stitch from the lush plains of Bengal.
The Kenyan craftswomen are in an open air classroom experiencing the centuries-old heritage of Indian embroidery and textiles at a crafts exchange programme, “Handcrafting Promises”, between Africa and India.
The programme hosting 18 craftspeople from Africa is a cultural diplomatic initiative supported by the ministry of external affairs at the 25th annual Dastkari Haat Samiti.
Jennifer Mulli, director of Katchy Kollections (under a Kenyan crafts label, Jiamini), bead weavers by tradition, says she is looking at different types of beading from India.
“India has a wide variety of beading traditions and we want to find out how bead crafts from the two countries can complement each other,” Mulli told IANS.
Mulli is also taking part in the dyeing workshops at the crafts fair. “I am learning the use of natural dye because we still use chemical dye in our country. Most of our weavers and craftspeople do not know the process of extracting natural dyes but we have all the spices and natural spices and flowers that are used for colours in Kenya,” Mulli
Mulli and her mate Millicent are keen to tie up with Indian artisans to develop their range of brassware.
“We also craft in brass, but India has richer brassware. We want trade partners in the brass sectors as well as in silver carvings,” Mulli said.
Horn carving is common to both India and Kenya. Indian craftsmen have been sculpting in ivory, buffalo, deer and rhinoceros horns for centuries like African craftspeople, who craft a bigger spread of horn artefacts and jewellery culled from many more animal species, the crafts resource person from Kenya said.
“But in India, horns are carved differently. This is a craft we want to look at… how it is done in India. We also want to learn Indian weaving,” Mulli said.
Mulli has adapted many traditional jewellery into contemporary accessories to make for comfortable wear. “We have culturally changed our indigenous beaded chokers crafted with wires to leather and bead designer wear which does not hurt the skin. Our traditional wire and bead necklaces are stiff and uncomfortable.
“We loom our beads on leather so that they resemble fabrics. The colours of our beadware are more subtle and Western unlike the earthy African shades so that the market can identify with the jewellery,” Mulli said.
Necklaces in Africa traditionally had no pendants, the craftsperson said, explaining the process of design transformation. “But we have introduced pendants in our bead necklaces to suit modern fashion tastes,” she said.
Mulli has a large clientele in Holland, Britain and the US.
“Most of the craftspeople are women in Kenya, but craft is not taken seriously despite the fact that it is a potential income generating business. We are looking for government recognition,” Mulli said.
Mulli and Millicent work with the disadvantaged youth and women in the villages of Kenya, helping them find self-employment. “We develop our products with them. And we have taught many of them how to make beads as well as mix and match designs,” Mulli said.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at email@example.com)
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