Our Artisan Community
Phulkari in Punjab is not just a means of livelihood for our Artisans. It has been, is and will be more than just work. Its an Act of Making Art - Colorful, Bright, Cheerful. It is a Work of Therapy - for whoever crafts it to whoever wears it. Its a tradition that transforms Fabric into Jewelry. The Phulkari Trinjans were an early form of Sororities - a group into which you're inducted, you owe allegiance to it, you sing and sow together, you network, recruit and train together. They were the hubs and spokes of Feminine Creativity in a predominant Patriarchal and Feudal milieu of Punjab. In the Post-Partition Punjab, with the Trinjans gone -- in a smaller way but they are steadily growing in number: The Self Help Groups (SHGs) have taken over. With the emergence of SHGs, growing literacy rates among women and (unfortunately) a growing rate of drug abuse amongst men in Punjab especially in the rural areas -- the need for Creative Entrepreneurship is most urgent.
Given this context, our Virsā Artisans are better defined as "Artpreneurs" - Artist Entrepreneurs. We currently work with 4 Self Help Groups predominantly in the Patiala-Nabha region of Punjab, India. And, that provides us with at least 45 Artisans-Partners and the number is growing! Our Artisans range from 19 years old to 65 years old....! and whilst some have at least 10 years of education but most none at all. They rely upon the skills of their hands and the amazing inherent aesthetic sense with which they match geometric patterns with highly stylized motifs and fill them with silk threads creating mosaics of unspeakable beauty. Indeed, few Art & Design Schools teach what these Artisans do.
Having said this, Phulkari Artisans haven't had it easy. The aftermath of The Partition dealt a severe blow to this Art (like War and Violence inevitably do). Industrialization, Computer Aided Design and Assembly-Line Manufacturing all played a part and continue to! Cloning Phulkari in a million colors and "standard" motifs and in that process, taking away the Soul from something that is a Living, Breathing, Emotional fabric - a woman's 100s of hours of labor of love.
Where handcrafted Phulkari did survive, a "new normal" seems to have been reached -- (1) Use of Industrial Supplies (Reels and Spools of manufactured Silk or shiny Polyester thread -- imitation silk at best), (2) Handspun Khaddar (coarse cotton) has vastly diminished and usage of all types of fabric is rampant (3) Stencils and Wooden Frames have taken over Counting Weaves and Free-Style phulkari (4) More than 45 of the original Phulkari Stitches have been lost and so have certain types of Phulkari Motifs and Patterns. Economics of Populism has clearly taken over.
In the midst of all this, both the Art and the Artisan suffer irreparable damage. Just like the Oral Traditions of Ancient Tribal Cultures is threatened because their habitats are being exchanged for rapid Urban Development. Similar forces threaten the purity and the chastity of an Honest, Handcrafted Phulkari and the ability of its Practitioners to hand-down this tradition to their successive generations.
Virsā and its Artpreneurs (and several organizations like ours) are fuelled by the passion of what Phulkari was and triggered by the challenge of chaotic change that in the past 70 years has ravaged an inheritance of several centuries!
If you would like to Partner with Virsā OR know how you can Help, please leave us a comment OR email us at firstname.lastname@example.org