Expanding museum for women artisans of Kutch India

by Kala Raksha
Dec 27, 2011

KR Research Project on Rabari Ornaments

Since its inception, Kala Raksha has dovetailed the collection and preservation of traditional pieces with income generation.  The Trust established an international quality Museum of textiles and related materials in 1997. Two features of this Museum make it unique.  First, the Museum is based in the village itself. Artisans have access to and responsibility for it.  Second, artisans were involved in all phases of the development of the Museum.  They assisted in collection, were engaged in documentation, and consulted in the permanent exhibition.  The Kala Raksha Museum successfully proves the mutual benefits of involving communities in presenting and utilizing their own cultures. The Museum is intended as a resource base for artisans, designers and researchers. One aim is to revitalize traditions in contemporary ways through the museum’s inspiration.  

As artisans are inspired by the collections, they also contribute important information to make the collections much more valuable.  During this period, artisan involvement went both ways.


Last year Thomas Seligman, Director of the Iris & B Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts in Stanford California, was so inspired by the ornament collection in the Kala Raksha Museum that he planned to return to Kutch to work with Kala Raksha in documenting Rabari ornaments.  In November, he conducted research with assistance from Curator Judy Frater for two weeks.  Dr. Seligman's expertise is in the ornaments of nomadic Tuarag people of Africa.  He wanted to compare the relationship between ornament makers and users in India to try to trace common origins.  

It all began with a Rabari anklet, which struck Dr. Seligman as very similar to one worn by Tuareg women. When he saw the same anklet in the Kala Raksha museum, he requested assistance in a research project.  His museum approved funds and he arrived in November 2011.

Dr. Seligman interviewed goldsmiths and documented their working methodology.  Museum objects are fully useful only when documentation accompanies the object.  The research provided an opportunity to refine the documentation existing in the Kala Raksha collections.  But Dr. Seligman found no information on origins or relationships with Rabari clients, the topic of his research.

Finally, when he returned to the Kala Raksha museum, he met with some of the Kala Raksha Rabari artisans from Bhopani Vandh village.  He showed them his book from the Kala Raksha library, and that initiated relating of the origin stories he was seeking.  The direct link to authentic information has always been the strength of Kala Raksha's museum collections. The artisans were able to provide important ethnological information that will enrich Kala Raksha's collections as well as Dr. Seligman's research. 


Dr. Seligman's research project provided another important benefit to the Kala Raksha Museum.  In thanks for the assistance we provided, he funded the accessioning of an important collection of Dhebaria Rabari ornaments.  Kala Raksha holdings include a complete set of Kachhi Rabari ornaments.  In 1995, Dhebaria elders banned all but a very few of the traditional Dhebaria Rabari ornaments.  Kala Raksha has wished to accession a companion complete collection of Dhebaria ornaments before the styles are forgotten.  With Dr. Seligman's support, we accessioned a major portion of the Dhebaria Rabari collection.  These in turn will be very useful for future research.  Some of the objects had previously been in use in the Kachhi Rabari community as well.  The Vandh artisans were so happy to see these traditional pieces that they each requested a portrait wearing the ornaments.


Research for Kala Raksha's book on Kutch embroideries continues.  The book will highlight the Kala Raksha Museum collections. Research on Ahir embroidery is nearly complete. Work on eastern Kutch embroideries will resume early next year.


The third group of Kala Raksha Artisan Designer interns has completed their term. Their collection of museum inspired bags was submitted in Kala Raksha's application to the 2012 Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. Meanwhile, the collection has received a good response in the Indian domestic market.


Kala Raksha Trust is self sustaining in its income generation work- a feat not even attempted by many non-profits. However, the earnings from our income generation cannot cover the costs of expansion of The Kala Raksha Museum, which is the core of our sustainable, authentic work.  Generous donations from our supporters enable us to add to our collections, and host projects that utilize our rich resource.

Global Giving has enabled us to reactivate our museum work.  We have realized our first goal in expanding our collections and installing our second virtual exhibition!  We thank Global Giving donors for your support, and welcome financial contributions as well as ideas for ways to reach out and share our holdings with interested people.
“The Global giving website is easy to navigate. It makes giving so much easier,” Maryann Sadagopan, Global Giving donor.


We look forward to adding to the Dhebaria Rabari ornament collection, which has finally been started.  We are also excited to complete the field work stage of our book on Kutch embroidery traditions and begin editing for publication with a highly respected publisher.  $795 would enable the final research to be carried out.
Two small collections of objects identified earlier:  an additional collection of Eastern Kutch embroidery, and a collection of women’s blouses are still on our wish list.  These are valued at RS 10,650 ($242) and RS 18,700 ($425) respectively.  

Having renovated our Museum Exhibition, we wish to revise our catalogue, which will make the exhibition information available to interested people throughout the world.  $1,000 would make publishing a new catalogue possible.


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Organization Information

Kala Raksha

Location: ta. Bhuj, Kutch, Gujarat - India
Website: http:/​/​www.kala-raksha-vidhyalaya.org
Project Leader:
Judy Frater
Kutch, Gujarat India

Funded Project!

Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.

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