‘Akshara’: A grassroots literacy initiative by Dastkari Haat Samiti

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Dastkari Haat Samiti founder, Jaya Jaitley
Dastkari Haat Samiti founder, Jaya Jaitley

Akshara, a unique blend of regional arts and crafts, is a literacy initiative by Dastakaari Haat Samiti, that aims to teach the value of literacy to craftspeople. It attempts to create a new design vocabulary, developed through artistic calligraphy in regional scripts, and applies them to a variety of traditional craft skills.

The Dastkaari Haat Samiti, a non-for-profit organisation, was established in 1986, by social activist, politician, and arts and crafts patron, Jaya Jaitley. The organisation consists of a large membership of crafts persons as individuals, family units, co-ops, associations and societies.

The Akshara project has had a successful run for the last 7 years. In this time, the project has worked with 70 producer-groups, 14 Indian languages and scripts, along with 21 craft, textile and art forms, covering 16 Indian states. The exhibition showcases India’s great written heritage by focusing on the art of calligraphy, in multi-faceted, innovative ways, by linking the art of calligraphy and design.

The project was showcased in 2010, in Chennai, at a Kalakshetra Crafts Bazaar, as a one of a kind project on calligraphy in crafts. The positive feedback received at the in-house level, encouraged the Haat Samiti to take the project to new heights, both nationally, as well as internationally.

The Samiti has since showcased the project, in and around India, apart from showcasing it internationally, at the UNESCO headquarters, in Paris, in 2013, and in Cairo, at the festival of ‘India on the Nile’, in the same year. On both instances, the Samiti aimed to bring to light the need to encourage local crafts, along with the need to save dying languages, with the help of regional arts and crafts, while providing literary access to local artists.

As stated by the Samiti’s founder, Jaya Jaitley, “Saaksharta, or literacy, is crucial to India’s development. As India moves towards greater literacy, particularly among women, the use of scripts, the shape of the written word, the visual cadence of a sentence, the curve of a line in a letter of an alphabet, all come into unconscious focus in the creative mind’s eye. The rural artisan feels a sense of inadequacy without the knowledge of English or the computer. Dastkari Haat Samiti seeks to address this issue in a pioneering manner.”

This year, the project is being showcased in Mumbai, from the 9 – 18 October, 2015, at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharashtra Vastu Sangralaya (formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum), with a private viewing being held on 8 October, at 4.30 pm.

The exhibition in Mumbai will showcase India’s great written heritage by focusing on the art of calligraphy. The pieces will include handcrafted applications of scripts, on metal, carved and inlaid wood, clay, stone, pottery and stoneware, and papier mache.

There will be a range of embroidery styles from Bihar, Gujarat and Rajasthan, apart from brocade and Jamdani weaves from Varanasi. Painting styles from Odisha to Kalighat, and West Bengal, will also be up on display. Each exhibit has a special story to tell, either in the way the design came about or the meaning of the script that embellishes the object.

Details about the Samiti‘s work, and the Akshara project, can be found on the Haat Samiti’s Facebook page, as well their website.

For further details regarding the Akshara project in Mumbai, contact, Richa Gupta, at 09873798874.

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