Gaining ground: Learning from global craft practices

Global craft and nature in symbiosis... a review of 'Gaining Ground', a new exhibition by the Crafts Council, as visited by Geraldine Dobbie on behalf of CraftCourses. Running from 13th April to 20th June 2022, themes of craft as a living knowledge, shaping our global culture and our relationship to nature. Global craft can and does inform climate change action and contribute to building a sustainable future.

'I believe,' says Lucas Mamerto Mamani, 'we are born with the power of making in our hands.' 

She is from Argentina, a rope artisan and bone carver, whose life, work, and values are reflected in an innovative study of global skills currently at the Craft Council Gallery in North London.

CraftsCouncil 'GainingGround' © exhibition and @BJDeakin_Photography
Gaining Ground - learning from global craft practices, examines the role that biodiversity, local materials and production systems now play in empowering artists such as the rope maker Lucas. 
The British Council's Crafting Futures Programme draws on nine projects from around the globe. Via films, photography, audio, handbooks, raw materials, and craft objects it invites visitors to question how knowledge is produced and assessed. The exhibition has been designed as a site for learning and through reading, discussion and exchange it questions how knowledge is produced and assessed. It draws attention to territories where colonialism and capitalism have threatened natural resources and prevented craft knowledge being passed on to future generations.

CraftsCouncil 'GainingGround' © exhibition and @BJDeakin_Photography
Through the 'making' projects we are told how environmental and social sustainability is supported in these regions. A Mexican potter Gustavo Bernal, a local ceramicist who digs and works with wild clay at his studio, says: 'Through developing a series of simple hands-on workshops the research investigated how working with clay can catalyse a reconnection with soil, earth and the local environment.'

CraftsCouncil 'GainingGround' © exhibition and @BJDeakin_Photography
A Kinshasa designer has revitalised traditional fabric woven with fibres from the leaves of the raffia palm which is unique to the Congo. Jess Kabulu's work explores the relationship between crafts, language and identity. For this project he set up a workshop to revitalise traditional Kuba cloth textiles - a fabric woven with fibres from the leaves of raffia palm and unique to the Congo. Traditionally these textiles were woven by men and the embroidery and applique work carried out by women. The workshop supports female weavers and linguists to apply Mandombe - a pan-African language -as a new pattern on traditional Kuba textiles.

CraftsCouncil 'GainingGround' © exhibition and @BJDeakin_Photography

The exhibition runs from 13 APRIL TO 25 JUNE 2022 at the Crafts Council, 44a Pentonville Road, London N1 9BY 
The exhibition is curated by Ligaya Salazar, in partnership with the British Council’s Crafting Futures initiative, a global initiative supporting research for a sustainable future through making and collaboration. 
The exhibition features nine collaborative projects from the Crafting Futures programme – explored through objects, films, photographs, books, and material experiments. Gaining Ground will transform the gallery into an informal space for learning, through reading, discussion, and exchange. 
The nine projects were developed by makers, designers and researchers in Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guyana, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Philippines, and the United Kingdom. 
The projects are: 
1.    Artisan Voices: Dialogues for Sustainable Practices - a collaboration between British Council Argentina and the Craft Revival Trust, India. 
2.    Building a library for the future - a collaboration between Chief Domingos Munduruku (Belterra, Pará, Brazil) and Teal Triggs, Matt Lewis and Tai Cossich (Royal College of Art, London), Celia Matsunaga and Matheus Almeida (University of Brasília, Brazil). 
3.    Cultivating an earth-based practice - a collaboration between artist Ione Maria Rojas, ceramicist Gustavo Bernal and founding director of art and ecology centre Guapamacátaro in Mexico, Alicia Marván. 
4.    Karighor archive - a collaboration between design collective Peut-Porter, architecture studio Paraa, the National Crafts Council of Bangladesh and textile artisans in Bangladesh and the UK. 
5.    Kilubukila - a collaboration between designer Jess Kibulu, artisan weavers and linguists in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Supported using
public funding by Arts Council England. 
6.    Making nature - a collaboration between design educators Prananda Luffiansyah Malasan (Institut Teknologi Bandung, Indonesia) and Nicholas Gant (University of Brighton). 
7.    Promoting Indigenous identity through pottery, Guyana - a collaboration between activist, ceramic artist and researcher Jay Mistry, Indigenous potters, and artisan social enterprise Wabbani (Yupukari, Guyana). 
8.    Relocating the loom: Handweaving in the Cordillera - A collaboration between Rachel Kelly, Michelle Stephens of Manchester School of Art with Analyn Salvador-Amores and the CordiTex project (University of the Philippines, Baguio). 
9.    Women’s earth-building revival and 'magic mud' in Nicaragua - A collaboration between the women’s organisation Asociación Mujeres Constructoras de Condega (AMCC), Nicaragua, carpenter and earth-builder trainer Helen Shears  and lime-stabilised soil consultant Bee Rowan (Strawbuild). 
Each project advocates craft as a form of ‘living knowledge’ that shapes cultures and our relationship to nature. Although they are each informed by specific geographic and socio-historical contexts, collectively these projects question how  craft can inform climate action and help build a more sustainable future. 

Gaining Ground draws attention to territories where colonialism and extractive capitalist processes have disrupted craft knowledge being passed onto future generations. 
Several projects featured in the exhibition address this through proposing self managed, open access platforms and handbooks that map and uphold heritage craft practices in these regions. Developed in dialogue with the artisans practising and safeguarding these crafts, they have been designed to ensure ethical visibility of their material cultures and craft knowledge. 
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