Crafts paradise | Daily News

Crafts paradise

‘Shilpa Abhimani 2018’ is bigger and better this year creating tremendous enthusiasm, supporting the national handicraft sector by its phenomenal success. Daily News spoke to Chairperson, National Crafts Council, Heshani Bogollagama on this extremely commendable initiative.

The National Crafts Council is functioning under the Ministry of Industry and Commerce and it was established mainly to ensure the traditional handicrafts of Sri Lanka, are nurtured and preserved and also developed in a sustainable manner.

“We have two partnering bodies, one is Laksala and one is National Designs Center who we work together to ensure that this industry is sustained and it also keeps in par with the traditions of Sri Lanka. In order to ensure the sustainability of the crafts we have training centers around the country. National Crafts Council has stepped in to make sure that this traditional craft is preserved. The national crafts council is working with the ministry of education to make the younger generation, aware about this traditions,” said Bogollagama.

Bogollagama pointed out that there are 112 training centers around the country where they take in newcomers – people who want to engage in this industry and who like to learn this craft and there onwards take the industry forward.

Felicitating masters

“We have also master craft training programs where we take masters in this craft who have learnt this traditionally through their previous generations and they have a lot of knowledge. We felicitate them and we take them as trainers and we have separately 75 master craft training programmes established around the country. We also want to ensure that the youth of Sri Lanka, value and treasure these crafts,” stated Bogollagama

Bogollagama added that earlier people used to take a cane basket when marketing. They have always given a place to Sri Lankan products. Today due to convenience, prices and the open market we have lost our traditions and we have lost what is ours. We have to make people more aware especially the younger generation.

“If you take the traditional handicrafts it has a history of over 2,500 years. But in the past it was centered with different caste systems and it is also something that came from generation to generation. If you read about the story of King Vijaya and Kuweni, when King Vijaya landed in Sri Lanka, what was Kuweni doing? She was weaving cotton. If you read about the tales of the Ramanayana, it talks about our grand crafts. Of course Sri Lanka has its own indigenous crafts. Some people say yes it is influenced by Indian crafts, but actually we have our own indigenous crafts and it is there in written history and in folk history,” said Bogollagama.

Shilpa Abhimani is the presidential handicraft competition and exhibition, which is organized annually. This is actually the third consecutive time, that the National Crafts Council is hosting a presidential award handicraft competition.

“We are thankful to President Maithripala Sirisena, for giving us this opportunity. Because in the past, the highest felicitation one could receive, was the felicitation by the King. These traditional crafts have been sustained in this country because the King used to felicitate the craftsmen. So after so many years, yet again the craftsmen have received that honour where they receive, a presidential award for their crafts,” said Bogollagama.

This competition is organized in three stages to ensure the crafts are of high standard.

The first stage is workshops. Around the country in all 25 districts Senior Lecturers from Moratuwa University, University of Visual Arts, conducted awareness programmes. Here craftsmen are made aware about new trends, the traditions, colours. This year, the theme centers on the natural beauty of Sri Lanka, and also the value of nature. All our products are based with natural raw materials. The second stage is the provincial competitions which have already been completed.

Then the final stage is the national competition - the Shilpa Abhimani presidential awards competition and exhibition and the international crafts festival which will be taking place from the September 12- 16, at the BMICH.

“Therefore we are expecting President to inaugurate the ceremony and felicitate our craftsman. The felicitation/ award ceremony will happen later separately. The competition has been taking place over these few days and we will distribute over six million rupees in cash to the craftsmen as a form of felicitation,” pointed out Bogollagama.

Handicrafts for children

Bogollagama added that they have started a new programme called Shilpa Navodya with the Ministry of Education, which has been very successful.

“We started this programme last year, where we selected ten schools per district and we went to over than 250 schools, and covered the entire island, we first made the school children aware of handicrafts, and about the traditions behind it, about different sectors, because we have altogether 21 sectors, 21 main sectors that we call traditional handicrafts. There onwards the interested parties were given training. We trained over 10,000 school children last year and we had the first ever all island school handicraft competition this year in June. It was of very high standard, where we saw children engaging in crafts for the first time, and they were very enthusiastic and their crafts were of extremely high quality. Thereby we actually see the youth, of Sri Lanka wanting to take these crafts forward,” explained Bogollagama.

Crafts exhibition

“The exhibition will take place from September 12 – 16, where the public can come and see these award winning crafts. At the same time we have over 100 stalls, for local and international craftsmen, for the public to go and purchase craft items directly from the producers without any intermediaries.

With the provincial competition been completed, over 8,000 crafts were brought forward by over 4,000 craftsmen compared to last year. Last year we had around 3,100 craftsmen who participated. Out of that we have already selected over 1500 crafts, to bring to the national level competition,” explained Bogollagama.

At the moment they are collecting the crafts from all the provinces which will be brought to the BMICH. There are over 30 high ranked judges, who will judge.

Bogollagama said that there is a need to get the youth more involved in the craft sector. To attract the youth it needs to be fashionable but to sustain these traditional crafts, it should be something valued by everybody.

“In the last five to six years, especially post war period, there is a lot of enthusiasm, and a lot of interest in the arts and crafts sector. Especially in performing arts, you see so many dramas, musicals which did not happen maybe when we were in schools. We did not see so many arts taking place. But people do not have the access to know about traditional crafts in Sri Lanka. That is where the National Crafts Council is coming in and we are making the schools aware. We have from one side potential craftsmen, and also the consumers of tomorrow. From the other side we also have to be more socially aware,” explained Bogollagama.

There are 26,000 craftsmen who are currently registered with the National Crafts Council and 75 per cent of it is women. These women are doing it as a main livelihood. “In the sector of these handicrafts, they can do this industry, as a home based industry. Therefore we have to ensure, that social problems, don’t happen in the future. We make these industries more popular for women to work from home. And from the other side, we have to be more environmentally conscious consumers,” said Bogollagama. Bogollagama stressed every time we buy a polythene bag, and the environment is in danger.

“At the exhibition, every day we will be having a special programme where we are training the award winning school children from Shilpa Navodya and they will have the opportunity to learn more advanced techniques,” she explained.

“We are giving the current craftsmen the opportunities to learn about the export market, about doing more environmentally friendly production schemes and we have five foreign countries participating. We will have workshops with local and foreign craftsmen as an exchange program. We have participants from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Malaysia.

They will bring their products and people can also learn about the crafts and they can also purchase crafts coming from those countries,” she added.

“Along with that we will be having performing arts every day in the evening including cultural shows, for the people coming to see the exhibition. They can also witness some beautiful cultural shows, both local and international with the Indian Cultural Center, Janakala, and Tower hall participating,” explained Bogollagama.

Lake House is the print media sponsor of this event.


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