Naree Artisans Movement: Conserving Goan Handicrafts 

and the Environment

Iris C F Gomes

NAM, or Naree Artisans Movement, was Aira Mirchanda, Natasha da Costa Fernandes and Milan Khanolkar’s answer to saving our artistic heritage of needlework that is being forgotten by a cyberspace obsessed generation. Beginning in 2013, the non-profit organisation has achieved great milestones in meeting its aims.

Natasha is the curator at The Museum of Christian Art, Old Goa, and Milan is a freelance artist, while Aira dedicates her time to NAM and Communicare Trust, another prominent NGO in Goa.

Goa has traditional textile-based handicrafts which are markedly of a superior quality and go back far in the past. ‘Unfortunately the handicrafts available for the tourist to carry back are very uninspiring and pale in comparison to what is available in the rest of India. Therefore the general perception of a tourist is that there is really no vibrant textile based handcraft,’ says Aira. To safeguard authentic Goan handicrafts, to revive traditional forms of embroidery, crochet, quilting, etc and make them more contemporary, Aira, Milan and Natasha decided to form NAM.

One of the most fascinating projects undertaken by NAM is the Godhadi project in collaboration with the Goa State Museum. The project involved creating a record of old Goan quilts in relation to the people who had crafted them, the types of stitches used, the techniques and patterns involved, and the stories that were intrinsically part of the process of producing the godhadis. Aira says, ‘We have photo-documented 350 quilts (godhadis and kapiyalis) and have also been able to capture many interesting stories related to them while the presenter spoke about her quilts. Some of the stories give an insight into the times and situations that led to the quilt being made.’

Traditionally, girls would begin making these quilts when they attained puberty. It was an art handed down from the older generations of women in the family and even neighbourhood women. Manes were the quilts made for babies, while quilts for older folks were called godhadis. The quilts would also be gifted to brides, or were a part of the bride’s trousseau. They were meant for the use of the family as well. Saree godhadis were made from old sarees and patchwork godhadis were made of pieces of waste or old cloth. An exhibition Goan Godhadis through the Ages was held in July 2013 to influence Goan families who viewed it to contribute if possible. Furthermore, to contemporise the Goan quilt, a competition was held in May 2013, where the contestants had to hand stitch a quilt using new designs.

Since then, NAM has held workshops to spread the knowledge of making traditional godhadis. ‘Both full size (usually made using old cotton voile sarees) and baby quilts (patchwork quilts) were taught. The resource persons used were professional quilters. This endeavour ties in with our concept of creating awareness about reducing the waste going to landfills. So, before each workshop we would have a small talk on how the Goan woman in previous generations used to practice ‘upcycling’ though the word did not exist. It would be upcycling of fabric, embellishments and even thread if it were possible,’ says Aira. The second part of the talk would involve the urgency of upcycling old fabric in present times to decrease the accumulation of waste by converting it into something like a godhadi.

NAM has held basic needlework, and embroidery workshops, besides special Christmas and Easter Craft workshops with a running theme of upcycling along with preserving craftsmanship. It has been having two annual exhibition-cum-sales for the last few years: Handicrafted in Goa, which allows women who produce non-commercial handicrafts to showcase their quality work and expertise with a touch of innovation; and Wipe Out Waste (WOW), which focuses primarily on upcycled products made from waste and recycled material such as jewellery made from earbud headphones, ballpoint pen refills, and bags made from old T-shirts. NAM has had workshops for students to make them aware of the growing wastage problem and teach them to recycle and upcycle. The most recent collaboration with the NGO Communicare Trust in April 2017 saw an exhibition called Zero Waste (held at the Don Bosco Oratory, Panjim and Big Foot, Loutolim) present the upcycled works of teachers and students of government primary schools after waste management programmes were carried out for them at taluka level. Aira had a teaching session on how to make bags out of old T-shirts at the programme.

Coming back to traditional crafts, Aira stresses that it is evolution that can rescue them from fading into oblivion and enable them thrive. This evolution must take place from the perspectives of skill and design. Skill acquired without the discipline to push one towards attaining perfection, would prove futile. Discipline combined with skill will bring finesse to the work. Aira says, ‘Appreciation of the work is what gives pride, satisfaction, and joy to the craftsperson. The second part that has to be addressed is the design. A lot of the traditional work that one sees is very repetitive in design, which makes one think that the concept of experimenting and creating one’s own designs was not popular. Duplicating designs is still very popular – this needs to be addressed. Craftspersons need to be taught the techniques but also encouraged to create their own designs.’