Indian Handicrafts: Matsya-Neha Gandhi
Neha Gandhi represents a new breed of entrepreneurs surging ahead in ventures that seek to redefine traditional structures and breathe life into rural India. Motivated by a desire to change and renew. She talks to us about Matsya, and how she endeavours to promote handicrafts and bring hope to the Indian artisan. Indian Handicrafts
Tell us about yourself and how you ventured into the world of handicrafts.
I am an artist, potter and crafts lover. I graduated from Sir.J.J School Of Fine Arts, Mumbai. Thereafter, I packed my bags and went all the way to Pondicherry to study pottery at Golden Bridge. To earn a living, I joined the National Institute of Design in the faculty development programme.
After the 2001 earthquake, I decided to head to Kutch, Gujarat. This was a turning point in my career. I worked with the Behavioural Science Centre, an NGO based in Ahmedabad, where I stayed for almost five years. Here, I was exposed to the rich culture, traditions and different crafts of the region.
Later, I worked with several NGOs in Gujarat and Mumbai, sharpened my skills further and gained an in-depth understanding of the craft industry while working with a fair trade organisation based in Mumbai.
How and when was Matsya conceptualised ?
Matsya was conceptualised in 2009 and is an extension of my personal and professional experiences in life. In 2008, I did a small stint with SEWA ,Ahmedabad and then came back to Mumbai looking for projects.
I was given a project for 3 months and then left seeking another job. 2006 onwards, an inner voice kept urging me to do something on my own, but I guess I was not confident and perhaps my circumstances did not permit me to begin this venture.
In 2008, I met three young designers, We kind of ideated, and thereafter I initiated Matsya in 2009 as a test run.
Working with artisans is the most wonderful challenge in the craft industry. To understand their skills and strengths one has to stay with them, adapt to their entire lifestyle.
I stayed with many artisans during my visit to Kutch and continue to do so whenever I get a chance, as I learn some wonderful things about life.
What is the concept of a craft tour ?
The craft tours initiative is an interesting project run by Matsya and was inspired by my sheer passion to travel. The tour enables a traveller to experience Kutch and its rich culture and traditions, while gaining an understanding of the crafts in the region. We are looking at interesting collaborations with people who take the tour. Maria Joao, a designer from Portugal, took the craft tour, stayed in India for six months and subsequently we developed a craft tour book together which is Matsya’s first publication.
The second collaboration was with the interns from NIFT, Shillong — with whom we did the Craft Tales, where the students not only got to see the crafts but also learnt how to design a craft document. That was the second Matsya publication.
So far, we have conducted four tours which were customised. The people who signed up for the tours are travellers, researchers, students and a few non-residents.
This year, we are planning to run a tour of six people for six days. The bookings of the tour will open only after September and the tour will begin post Diwali.
What are the challenges in the handicrafts sector and how do you hope to overcome them?
The handicrafts industry in India is the most unorganised sector and the challenges are huge.
While the market is evolving, artisans and NGOs need to understand and adapt to the changes, keeping their traditional skills alive and work towards introducing new, contemporary designs.
The only way to meet this challenge is to understand their skills, work your designs, and develop market strategy accordingly.
At Matsya, we work with what the artisans have, rather than what we design. Once the artisans are assured about sustainability, we try and look at developing new designs and products.
Challenges should be looked upon as strengths. By doing that, the path is more sustainable.