Thursday, September 11, 2014

An Artisan Network in Northern Thailand: YES!

Asia is a happening place. One of the most inspiring things that I saw during my last trip to Asia (August 2014) was in Chiang Mai, Thailand where I attended the IIAS roundtable conference on Cloth, Culture and Development; it was the work being done at the Institute for Science and Technology Research

To give some background, let me say that I perceive over and over again, in Indonesia, the need for networking between and among craft workers. Usually poor, their networking capacities are also minimal. That leaves them out there inventing the wheel all alone when they could learn so much from each other’s experiences. In Chiang Mai, I saw an example of a network that was more than I had even imagined. It was up and running and seemed to be working well. I became aware of this both from the presentations at the conference and through a pamphlet produced by the Knowledge and Technology Center for Northern Textile (Fai Gaem Mai) at the Institute for Science and Technology Research at Chiang Mai University.

Beautiful woven products were displayed and offered for sale at the Roundtable conference. 
I bought this beautiful indigo-dyed bag because of the motifs
that are so similar to the ones woven into the Batak ragidup
On the first day, leaders of the producer organizations spoke about their dreams, motivations, successes and challenges. All mentioned the research assistance given by the university when they needed to better understand how to perfect their dyes and designs, work more efficiently and healthfully, and develop their markets. I strongly approve of this function of a university centre. It is helping on the ground in ways that are important to the people who need it -- and who otherwise cannot afford it. The university is engaged and not cloistered in an ivory tower or in the thrall of large corporations. It is invested in supporting local knowledge, indigenous peoples and mitigating environmental pressures. Knowledge is being disseminated to the people who make practical use of it and not just to fellow researchers. According to the website, since the year 2000 the centre has assisted 182 textile producer groups in Northern Thailand.

The pamphlet that we were given in our Roundtable package promoted five groups. Each had its own specialities in the production of environmentally friendly and generally beneficial handloom products. They were not located close together; each was in a different province. Together, however, they shared a vision and probably much, much more. The pamphlet explained and depicted their activities. 

In addition, the pamphlet served as an invitation to come and participate. Each weaver group offered a hands-on program. Visitors would be able to take in one or all of the programs to learn to dye with natural dyes, spin yarn, weave and do silk screening.

These short training programs yield a network without borders. The producers  connect to the university for research support, with each other for other kinds of support and, through their cooperative training programs, they connect infinitely with the wider world.

This was a YES! moment for me, one of the most satisfying things that can happen when attending a conference or journeying through another land.

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