The Living and Learning Design Centre (LLDC) part of the Shrujan Trust, which has been committed to craft revival and income generation of craftspeople for close to 50 years in order to empower craftswomen living in 120 remote villages of Kutch to earn a dignified and sustainable livelihood. Every year there are over 4,000 women who work from their home at their own pace and their own time. Shrujan reaches the textiles and the threads to their doorstep and settles payments also at their doorstep as soon as the embroidery is done. The Shrujan Trust has also undertaken other large-scale projects such as Design Centre on Wheels and Pride and Enterprise.
ReReeti: Tell us about the LLDC and its components.
Ami: Set up on a 9-acre campus in Ajrakhpur in Kutch, LLDC is a place for preserving, promoting and celebrating the crafts. It is also a place where the skill and potential of practising and aspiring kaarigars (craftsperson) is enhanced so as to enable them to earn a dignified and prosperous livelihood. The museum complex, which was inaugurated on January 23, 2016, celebrates not only past glories but also the mastery and creativity demonstrated by the living legends of the crafts.
The museum complex has three galleries as well as a hands-on gallery. Galleries 1 and 2 will exhibit craft-based shows curated from the LLDC permanent collection. Gallery 3 will exhibit craft-based shows curated from the collections of master kaarigars and private collectors. The hands-on gallery will provide a fun experience in the practice of some of the crafts.
Image: The museum complex is part of the Living and Learning Design Centre (LLDC). It’s one of the first dedicated textile museums that showcases the history and conservation of embroidery from the western region of Kutch, Gujarat at Bhuj.
ReReeti: Tell us the story behind the name of the museum.
Ami: The name Living and Learning Design Centre expresses two core beliefs of the Shrujan Trust. The first is that design is the foundation of any craft, therefore, design innovation will be a key commitment of LLDC. The second belief is that learning should be an on-going process. Learning is living and living is learning. LLDC is therefore committed to learning: learning in different ways, for different sections of people – be they craftspersons, tourists, art and craft lovers, textile and design students, as well as members of the Shrujan Trust.
ReReeti: What are some of the highlights of the museum complex?
Ami: The first museum show in Gallery 1 is called the Living Embroideries of Kutch. The highlight of this show is the exquisite collection of large-size embroidery panels produced by present-day craftswomen belonging to 12 different embroidery communities of Kutch. Another key component of the complex is the crafts studio. Here, designers and craftspersons will learn from one another to create new designs and products. These collaborations will help the crafts to stay relevant and marketable in today’s marketplace, which is the whole wide world.
Other resources of the museum complex include the archives, which comprises storage zone for the crafts and conservation laboratories; the permanent LLDC collection, which comprises the Shrujan Trust textiles collection, commissioned contemporary works of master kaarigars, traditional and contemporary craft artifacts sourced from India and abroad; and lastly, print and audiovisual resources.
Image: The craftswomen belong to 12 distinct communities. Each of these communities practice one or more different styles of embroidery. For example, while the craftswomen of the Mochi community practice one embroidery, the Mutva community practices 18 different styles.
ReReeti: Why did you decide to establish a museum in this region?
Ami: The crafts of India are primarily located in rural areas. This is true of Kutch as well. Its glorious crafts heritage is part of rural Kutch where over 22 different crafts are practised even today. However, the general practice is to showcase crafts in urban areas. This creates a curious anomaly: those that practice these crafts, those that have the most invested in them do not get to see their own crafts displayed in their own environment.
That is why it was decided right from the get-go that LLDC would be a part of the physical and cultural landscape of rural Kutch. If the crafts of Kutch are to be showcased, including the huge embroidery collection of Shrujan, then the right place for them is in Kutch itself. Having the museum in Kutch also provides easy access to kaarigars and the rural youth. The museum and its artifacts will inspire them and provide them with learning inputs to enhance their design sensibility and creativity.
Image: The museum complex offers a unique experience of handmade crafts.
ReReeti: How have the local communities been engaged in the conceputalisation of LLDC?
Ami: We wanted the craftspeople to be involved in significant ways. Information about their communities and their embroideries was gathered through intensive interviews with them. They were also involved in curating the exhibition and in the display of the exhibits; their approval was sought on each exhibit, be it a traditional piece of clothing and jewellery, an animal decoration or a three-dimensional artifact. Craftspersons, especially those practicing embroidery, thus have an understanding about what a museum is and what we are striving to achieve with their participation and involvement.
ReReeti: What have you planned for visitor outreach at the museum complex?
Ami: The museum complex is envisioned as an international level museum; there are three-dimensional displays, interactive touch screens, signage, posters, films, books as well as display of traditional as well as contemporary embroideries and products. There is a brochure available for detailed information and we are in the process of designing a timeline that will have pride of place in Gallery 1. There is also the museum shop. Workshops, short-term courses will also take place in the 125-seat auditorium and 25-seat conference room. These will provide intensive, need-based training to practising craftspersons. Master kaarigars will play a key role as teachers and mentors. We have also scheduled workshops for museum visitors and design/fashion school students.
ReReeti: What’s Shrujan’s vision for the growth of LLDC?
Ami: In the next phases, LLDC will inaugurate its Crafts School. This will be for practising craftspeople as well as for rural youth. Passion and commitment for the crafts and for Kutch will be qualifying criteria and not formal education. The Crafts School will conduct an Integrated Craft Course. This full-time course will run over a consecutive period of six months. The Crafts School will have fully equipped working studios for all the 22 crafts of Kutch. This will make LLDC the single largest living and working craft environment in Kutch and perhaps in India as well.
Ami Shroff is the Director of LLDC – the Living and Learning Design Centre, a crafts education and resource centre for the craftspeople of Kutch.