Cultural Diversity Sustaining Crafts and Preserving Heritage

December 16, 2012 1:21 am 71 comments __
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By Bibi Russell

Humankind is basically multicultural in nature and diversity is its wealth and strength. Over the centuries, the cultural wealth of communities and nations attracted peoples of various backgrounds. Voyagers, historians, politicians, commercials and military forces travelled far and wide to know about, understand, buy and sell and even appropriate the wealth of others. With changing times, the modes of communication also advanced. In today’s knowledge societies, information and communication technology is progressing by leaps and bounds, connecting people with an unprecedented speed. In this rapidly changing world, while we move forward steadily, we need to rethink how to sustain local cultures and to preserve our heritage.

Artisans and craftspeople make major contributions in creating ways of expressing and showcasing cultural identities and developing local cultural industries. In developing countries, crafts continue to be sources of subsistence for many. Lack of education, unfortunately restricts the participation of a significant number of fine artisans who otherwise excel in creative enterprises and master the skills required for their crafts. Unable to respond adequately to the changing market environment and the  demands of the 21st century, particularly  the increasing integration of  information and communication technology in all aspects of life,  artisans with little  or no education, engaged in various kinds of crafts are driven to give up their trade to become superfluous dislocated labourers. Hence, in view of preserving cultural heritage of diverse local communities, it is crucial to prevent skilled artisans from falling into the poverty trap.

In line with UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, it is critical to develop interdisciplinary programmes to promote and sustain cultural diversity. By linking culture to education, science and technology, communities ought to be supported to utilize their natural genius and creative energy for developing their own locally inspired cultural goods.

Over the past decades, I have been working very closely with artisans in different parts of the world, specially the traditional weavers, to redress the declining trend in the handloom textile industry. I have been working in countries where high quality hand-woven textile production and complementary crafts were once the mainstay of the economy, assisting the skilled weavers to preserve their knowhow, to create harmonious links between tradition and modernity and to facilitate their access local and global markets. From my own experience it is clear that well-designed strategies with integrated learning and skills training and appropriate use of technology  can enable artisans at risk to preserve many fine skills,  their cultural wealth and creativity as well as to secure an income in a sustained manner.


I therefore call upon all development agencies to join forces to support traditional craftspeople by bringing together the essential components such as culture and creativity, skill, capital, technical assistance, marketing, before many fine skills are lost.

“When people see my collections, I want them to understand and appreciate all the work and effort that has gone into them. I want to preserve the heritage of my country, foster creativity, provide employment, empower women and contribute towards the eradication of poverty. That’s what I’m committed to do.”

(Bibi Russell, the astounding model who rose to stardom in the late 70s and early 80s, now works to establish a cause that is much closer to her heart: the plight of the hand woven textile industries and their workers in her native Bangladesh. With the set up in 1995 of Bibi Productions, she has given the Bangladeshi weavers and artisans the golden opportunity to utilize their considerable skills and talents to achieve economic survival and to build towards a prosperous future.Her work has been internationally recognized having received among others, the ‘Honorary Fellowship’ of the London Institute in 1999, title of ‘Designer for Development’ by the UNESCO in 1999, the title ‘Artist for Peace’ by the UNESCO in 2001 and the Peace Prize 2004 by the United Nations Associations of Spain. )

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