The problems that arise out of working with craftspeople are specific to each craft and cannot be generalized so easily in the Indian context.
When we talk of designers and craftspeople together in a context we automatically assume that the designer is the more creative of the two, and also more intellectually superior of the two.
We usually don’t go beyond the obvious that we are going to a craftsperson because the designer wants to use those skills to create something an artisan can easily and willingly create but does not have the mental ability to come up with that idea.
We categorise hand skills as secondary to the intellect. We use these skills to our profit and perhaps there is nothing wrong with it.
Artisans, Craftspeople in India are a marginalized community. Ofcourse we cannot say this for all craftspeople or for all crafts . The sector is not homogeneous at all even if it appears to be.
We cannot say this for all crafts because each craft is unique and therefore so are their issues, for example a potters terracotta cluster is different from those of weavers or those of wood block makers.
Leather and clay workers are in the bottom of the crafts list because of the perceived value of the goods they make in the Indian context. On the other hand papier mache artisans from Kashmir or the miniature artists in Rajasthan fare better because their craft is to do with painting beautiful things and much more socially acceptable topics.
When we designers work with artisans we are not usually aware of all the specific problems related to a particular craft we automatically assume because the craftsperson uses locally and cheap materials and because they churn out products which have not changed for decades we can do better , and perhaps there is an element of truth there as well.
Throughout India we are witnessing a dilution of crafts , by this I mean that many bold objects which had the rigour of hand made , the raw beautiful patterns are all dissapperaing and changing within a generation , ofcourse there are many reasons for that and its not possible to discuss all of it.
More and more educated urban designers are working with semi-literate or literate artisans in rural areas and yes its good for both parties, one provides economic relief to the other and gives them work, the other provides the designer a low cost handcrafted product.
There is much stimulation and you would say and a win-win for both.
But actually if one looks more closely , you will easily find things which are morally not correct, and this can only be understood by giving specific examples.
1) An Indian designer worked with warli tribal painter to paint “cocacola” bottles in warli style for a television adverstisment, I am sure the artisan who painted would have been renumerated very well after all its for a multinational company .
But if the designer/ film maker had given an informed choice saying to the craftsperson hey you will be paid really well but the company its for , is known for poisoning ground water and damaging environment and bullying marginalized communities. Would the artisan have agreed ?
2) Similary if we use Madubani motifs which smbolise death, fertility , god etc and use them to create wrapping paper or a print for a dress, is that allowed if the artisan is paid properly? Is it ok if the sacred motif becomes profane ?
3) The Ayyanar terracotta artisans of Tamil Nadu create 10 feet tall statues in clay of the terribile warrior the Veer Bhadra, with his massive body frame and towering personality to create awe in its viewer , over the decades due to the popularity of film actor and politician Shivaji Ganesan many customers placing an order for the diety have asked them to create one which looks like Shivaji Ganesan thus losing the fearsome and solid essence of the original figure.
The point I am trying to argue here is working with craftspeople should not be about money and renumeration only.
The only way to preserve crafts in India is not to just give them work its to educate the children of the artisans and to make them believe in the importance of the knowledge passed from generation to generation.