People have a distinctive sense of art. From the beginning of the civilization, they have created innumerable things as a blossom of this sense. They have done it from necessity or even unnecessarily because they are bound to do it. Some things they have preserved and made these a part of their living, their tradition. Some things they have abandoned as in any way they feel these unnecessary.
Handicrafts are by nature traditional. By using their primitive instruments, hands, people make these to use in their daily life. It is important to mention that most of the time handicrafts have an aesthetic view and artistic value. For this reason, historically the upper class of the society has a lust for these. In the timeline of history, patronized by the higher class people at different times, different pieces of handicrafts reached the peak of development and popularity.
The handicraft products that are available in Bangladesh can be categorized as follows:
Of late, handicrafts have been exposed to commercialization. Now, in Bangladesh, considering its potentiality in local and international markets, people involved in this sector claim for modernization. New technologies and market competition always pressurize us to take steps to modernize this sector. Now, the question is: how will we modernize this sector?
According to some modernists, tradition is somehow a barrier to modernization. But, without traditional touch, handicrafts will lose one of their unique features. Another fact is "All modernizing society cannibalizes their tradition, and in no modern society traditional artisans are survived." Japan, USA, European countries, all have done this. But in this case, China, India, and Vietnam are different. China has preserved her cultural industries according to her own way by giving patronization and policy-help.
The modernization concept is also slightly different there. The Chinese don't think being modernized, that is, being westernized. Their subjects, materials, designs etc, have been developed but not by abandoning tradition. "Jingdezhen in Jiangxi Province is a city famous for its 1,000-year-old handicraft industry, mainly porcelain making." The town, Lukang of Taiwan, is claimed to be the 'Mecca' of traditional handicrafts.
So, to modernize our handicrafts industry what model we will choose is a matter of some serious thought. However, our commerce minister has announced to formulate a national Handicraft Policy and we are passionately waiting for this. Because for modernization or for any other development, policy support can act as a major contributor.
Modernisation means creating well-trained artisan groups, adoption of technology in the value creation process, and establishing supporting institutions to a standard that will ensure competitive position of handicrafts in local and international markets.
Creating well-trained artisan groups: "Craftworks are involved with social relationships between producers and customers. The producers transfer social meaning to their products; customers decode the meaning and reinterpret it. Through this interaction, customers and producers share the same meanings, and the crafts are purchased". So, the people making handicrafts exhibit our social meanings derived from our values, cultural heritage, and tradition. To present the cultural heritage in the best way, the work of well-trained artisans is a good option.
Now in Bangladesh, most handicrafts are produced, traded and exported by the giant non-government organizations (NGOs) and private enterprises. Among them, Karuponno Rangpur, Dhaka Trade, Kumudini, Aarong, Nipun crafts, Creation, and Pioneers are exporting handicrafts to foreign countries.
In these firms, there are professional designers with technical expertise. They design the products and skilled or semi-skilled people living in rural areas work at the dictation of the designers. In this case, creativity from the root level is automatically being discouraged.
On the other hand, there are so many traditional artisan groups like potters, Tatis, embroidery artisans, wooden craft artisans etc, living around the country who are supposed to be extinct because of lack of patronization. The government here can choose these groups and can provide funding and proper training on technology implications, current trends and designs etc, under community-empowerment projects. Giving award and prize money on skills and expertise can stimulate this process of development. Arranging handicrafts fairs at national and international levels and encouraging the award-winner craftsmen to participate in these fairs can change the current situation.
Adoption of technology: From production to sale to the customers, adoption of technology is a must to modernize the sector. Use of technology can reduce time and effort of the workers. In this way, it can help to reduce cost and improve quality and make it competitive in the market. Re-sizing, shaping, designing, carding, need technologies that the semi-skilled and unskilled workers are hardly able to use.
Establishing and strengthening supporting institutions: Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) is responsible for promoting and caring for the handicrafts industry. But unfortunately, it has failed to carry out its responsibility due to corruption and mismanagement. So employing efficient and honest managers is a must to strengthen the BSCIC.
In line with this, establishing training centers at district levels, considering the specialization of the locality, is necessary. For example, Tangail is specialized for "tater sari". So training on bringing versatility in making this kind of sari will be effective here.
Combined research & development (R&D) center: The government can establish a combined research and development (R&D) center including different departments for different varieties of handicraft items. In this center, experts will research the traditional design, styles, and mode of production and develop new types of design, fashion, and modes that will strengthen our competitive position in the international market. Students of fine arts and fashion graduates can work as interns here.
Common Facility Centre: The Bangladesh Handicrafts Manufacturers and Exporters Association, popularly known as BanglaCraft has been demanding to establish a Common Facility Centre (CFC). CFC can enable the craftsmen to progress from individualized labor-intensive process to a relatively easier production which can enhance their economic progress. The CFC can also be a platform for testing and establish newer designs and prototypes as well. This is imperative so as to make the product more cost effective, marketable and self-sustainable.
A suitable common facility center can greatly assist craft clusters to take advantage of modern facilities and move at par with the changing industrial and market scenario. This will help them achieve greater profitability along with necessary skill enhancement.
As the market for our handicrafts is expanding in the international arena, modernization in this sector is so necessary to compete well. The government should come forward with the policy support and community empowerment projects. NGOs also should work for modernization as they are already involved effectively with this sector. By their managerial improvement, new technology adoption private enterprises also can contribute to the modernization of the handicrafts sector.