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    National Crafts Museum & Hastkala Academy, Delhi

    Map Academy

    Articles are written collaboratively by the EIA editors. More information on our team, their individual bios, and our approach to writing can be found on our About pages. We also welcome feedback and all articles include a bibliography (see below).

    Formerly known as the National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum, the National Crafts Museum was established in 1956 by the All India Handicrafts Board. Located at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi and falling under the purview of the Ministry of Textiles, it was originally envisioned as a resource centre for the preservation of the artistic and cultural heritage of India and has remained a prominent force in the advancement of Indian handicrafts and folk art. The museum’s collection includes over thirty thousand objects in various mediums such as metal work, jewellery, carving, painted wood and papier mache, folk painting, textiles, basketry and matting, terracotta and glazed pottery. It also has a permanent display of vernacular and village architecture and decoration and holds regular demonstrations by craftspersons on their techniques. In fact, the primary audience of the museum is not the public but visiting artisans. It was set up over a period of thirty years by the activist Kamaladevi Chattopadhay, and the building that presently houses its collection was designed by architect and urban planner Charles Correa between 1975 and 1991. As of writing, the director of the museum is Jyotindra Jain, who has held office since 1984.

    The museum is divided into three distinct areas: the galleries, which house old and new artefacts and include the Tribal and Rural Craft Gallery, the Gallery of Courtly Crafts, the Textile Gallery and the Gallery of Popular Culture; the village complex, which is a remnant of the Asia Trade Fair held in 1972 and designed by Sankho Chaudhuri, spread over five acres, exhibiting various styles of vernacular architecture; and the crafts demonstration area, where invited artisans produce and sell their wares, accompanied by occasional folk music and dance performances. An additional textile gallery was inaugurated in 2019. The museum also houses a library with nearly ten thousand books and articles, a slide collection, a small conservation laboratory and a research and documentation unit.

    Its physical space features mud-coloured structures with terracotta-tiled roofs, situated around open courtyards with views of the nearby Purana Qila. Each courtyard houses a different collection, such as the Darbar Court, the Village Court, the Temple Court and so on, reflecting the distinct modes of patronage the artefacts have received over the years. Following the decline in courtly sponsorship by the late-eighteenth century and diminishing village demand of traditional artefacts in favour of inexpensive substitutes made of plastic, aluminium and paper, production for Hindu ritual use has been positioned as an important source of patronage. However, this has resulted in the elevation of the craft rather than the craftsperson as well as a naturalising of caste differences.

    The museum was conceived by the propagation of handloom cloth, or khadi, as well as the role of handspinning and weaving in the Indian nationalist movement during the twentieth century. It also served as an acknowledgement of the displacement of weavers as a result of the expansion of mills. Notable displays at the museum include its extensive bhuta collection from Karnataka, Kashmiri dushalas, Baluchari sarees, rare handkerchiefs from Chamba renowned for their embroidery, Madhubani paintings, Naga sculptures and bidri work. Most artworks in the collection are on permanent display and unattributed to a single artist.

    The museum also maintains a National Craftspersons Directory, aimed at documenting artisans who produce the displayed artefacts along with a record of their works and techniques. The museum holds frequent workshops to bring together practitioners of a craft from across the country and arranges pensions and apprentices for the practitioners to ensure the continuity and preservation of artistic traditions and craft forms for subsequent generations. It also produces catalogues and invites students to tour the galleries and observe the craftspeople at work. There is also an on-site indoor theatre that screens documentaries, lectures and discussions.

    Over two dozen craftspeople are invited each month to provide live demonstrations and sell their wares at the museum’s Craft Demonstration Programme. At present, the museum remains an invaluable resource for the viewership and appreciation of craft traditions and continues to expand its influence as a site that resists the homogenisation of Indian art traditions.



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