Shilpa 2015- taking tradition to niche market



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Design consultant, Senaka de Silva with some French visitors


Newspaper pulp marvels


by Randima Attygalle


The annual National Crafts Exhibition, popularly known as Shilpa, organized by the National Crafts Council, under the Ministry of Industry and Commerce was unveiled last Thursday at the Sri Lanka Exhibition and Convention Centre. The exhibition which brought together a wide spectrum of traditional handicrafts including pottery, paintings, lace work, wood sculpture, cane work, bamboo work, handloom and masks, to name a few, concluded yesterday.


Marrying tradition


and modernity


The highlight of the exhibition- Visithuru, brought under spotlight crafts which were given value addition in attractive and innovative packaging under the guidance of design consultants Senaka de Silva and Baratha Kumara Liyanage. Visithuru brought together the skill and innovation of master craftsmen, award winning craftsmen of exceptional talent and Training Centre Instructors. 15 gifted craftsmen were chosen among last year’s award winning Visithuru participants to present their work under this year’s program which included masks, coconut shell handicrafts, hand lace, ceramics stone and wood sculpture batik, palmyrah and kithul designs, and lacquer work.


"The specialty of their work is that they marry tradition and modernity. While concepts preserve their traditional value, the presentation attempts to catch the modern buyer with packing, catering to the global markets," explained senior design consultant Senaka de Silva. The touch of the connoisseur was further mirrored in stunning creations such as bamboo evening bags, document holders and paper pulp products which appear to be made out of fibre to the naked eye. The aim of this segment as Senaka explains is to create new market opportunities for these craftsmen.


Exploitation of labor


The common grievance shared by all these artistes is the absence of a window to sell their creations. "All these creations cater to the niche market and if there is a platform for us to make them available to the local traveller who can gift these abroad for example, we can boost the volume of our products," said Tharanaga Disani who is a Rajatha award winner in hand lace. An industry such as hand lace is fast dying, says Disani who is disheartened that it doesn’t attract the new generation, largely due to lack of promotion and publicity. Although they are thankful to the National Crafts Council for giving this opportunity to find global buyers, they urge the promotion of their products locally. Most craftsmen were critical of so called national gift and souvenir centres which often exploit their labor. "We only get a pittance and that too after making so many trips," they said.


Lack of marketing


Largely rural-based, the making of handicrafts forms the second largest employment segment in the countryside. To uplift the rural economy, Training Centres for Handicrafts were established under the Handicrafts Board. The management of these training centres was transferred to the National Crafts Council a few years ago. With the objective of encouraging these skilled trainers who conduct their training sessions under trying conditions, this year’s Shilpa exhibition featured the work of 11 selected instructors in the Visithuru segment. The whole exercise aims to improve the knowledge, training methods, market demands, design trends and creativity of these instructors which can be shared with their students.


K.G. Mahinda, a pottery and a ceramic instructor finds lack of marketing opportunities as the biggest stumbling block for all craftsmen. Citing his Malaysian experience Mahinda said, "over there, a state mechanism where buyers are sent to the craftsmen to purchase their products prevails and they give a lot of dignity to labor which is not the case here. Craftsmen are exploited and no incentives are given to promote them."


Shilpa was also patronized by ‘regular’ visitors. Dulaksha Ranaweera from Kalubowila and Daphne de Vos from Nugegoda were among them shopping for handloom apparel and gas-resistant clay pots. "The quality we find here is superior to what is available outside and I never miss Shilpa" smiled Dulaksha. A lover of coir products, Daphne had her hands full. "It’s a pity that we don’t find some of these unique products outside Shilpa exhibition and if there is state-funded outlet which can promote them, we could buy these lovely products through out the year," she said.


(Pix by Saman Ranaweera)


 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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