Designer X Artisan: Redefining scope of traditional craft

In Nepal, knowledge of traditional arts and crafts have been passed down through generations within communities and families. These indigenous knowledge and skills have been a source of income for many and continue to provide employment till today. However, the demand for traditional crafts have been in decline in recent years. As technology advances and lifestyle changes, people opt to buy cheaper and modern alternatives and local craft products only find place in souvenir shops. The craft industry itself has been more and more reliant on tourism and export to foreign countries.

With Mhendo Play, collaboration with local artisans is a focal point. Despite the high production cost, local crafts and practices are more eco-friendly and sustainable. When we find ways to combine modern aesthetics with our age-old knowledge and skills, we can truly discover innovative and sustainable solutions. Mhendo focuses on creating a framework in which the traditional art practice can truly shine.

One such collaboration is with Mithila artisans for a series of tactile toys. For the prototype production we worked with Mithila Devi Yadav, a pioneer in Mithila art who has experience of more than 50 years. During our meeting, we had a chance to talk about her work and experiences. She shared her story of how she came to set up Mithila HastaKala Udhyog in Janakpur 35 years ago. Despite successfully running the organization for many years, she has faced a significant decline in interest and demand for Mithila craft recently especially during the pandemic. Meeting with Mithila Devi Yadav gave me valuable insight into the situation of Mithila artisans and how the craft industry has been impacted by the pandemic.

When I received back the prototype sets, I was very satisfied with the result. The paintings were done beautifully and matched my vision for the product. I was concerned if the artist had any problem while painting the toys, but I was glad to find out that she did not have any trouble. The designed framework, where the artist had the full freedom to work according to their expertise, proved to be successful.

While the first phase is complete, I am working on how the design can go into production. I am excited to introduce this unique folk art to children in the form of fun toys.

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