Helen Ting finds new ways to showcase cloth-making traditions in a pioneering festival.
Selvedge Magazine pulled off an immersive textile experience, all online, with over 100 artisans participating from more than 60 countries in its inaugural World Textile Fair. I felt it demonstrated what can be managed with readily available technology.
Due to COVID-19, this celebration of cloth, culture and creativity went virtual from 3 – 5 September 2020. It was originally planned as an “in-person” event to be hosted in London.
Funds were raised to stage the event through a crowdfunding website. Online workshops were held. Chatrooms were scheduled with artisans ‘chatting’ similar to text messaging. Talks on Zoom involved people from multiple countries – ‘I think you’re on mute’ was heard many times. And an online market brought artisan products to new markets.
So, does an online workshop actually work? Yes. I attended a workshop on Nagaland decorative stitching. The stitching techniques were demonstrated by Rokozeno Chaya in Nagaland (India). It was facilitated by Radhi Parekh in Mumbai representing the “ARTISANS x Leshemi Origins” Nagaland project. Natasha was hosting from the UK and twelve people participated from five countries. Beforehand we received a video about Nagaland’s nettle cloth, a handout with stitching instructions and a materials pack, so I could handle the handwoven nettle cloth of Nagaland. Questions were via the “chat” function on Zoom. Rokozeno and Radhi told us stories and showed us traditional textiles. Finally, the video recording was emailed to us afterwards.
I missed having a teacher look over my shoulder but the camera was close up on the instructor’s work as she spoke.
Can technology offer a unique experience? Yes. It did through Slow TV in the form of a two-day live feed from Bhujodi weaving village, Gujarat. This was a “fly on the wall” experience of the activities of weavers and dyers in Shamji Vankar Vishram Valji’s weaving complex. Having visited this village last year before COVID, I can verify that the virtual experience was almost like being there. I could hear the local birdlife, the kids playing and the sounds of weavers beating the weft yarn, all through my television. It was a strangely soothing experience.
I felt this experience showcased how living traditions in cloth-making can come alive to us in new ways.
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