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THE CARIBBEAN ARTISAN NETWORK
From ancient times the Caribbean has been home to generations of Craft based cultures. The earliest inhabitants whether Ciboney, Lucayan ,Taino or Kalinago –Carib have all sustained their way of life through the universal activity of transforming natural materials into culturally significant creations.
Early art forms embodied the spirits of an animistic religion in clay, stone or shell carvings, later, plantation era crafts with European and African influences supplied practical utensils for daily life such as cooking pots, baskets and straw hats. Today the artisans are producing a broad range of work for local and tourist consumption, from calabash hand bags to carved coconut turtles and bird feeders.
The production ,exchange and distribution of hand crafted goods has been one of the roots of cultural identity in all civilizations .For the Caribbean our identity is embedded in our island environments , our multi ethnic population and our cultural creativity.
In an effort to preserve traditional craft practices, inspire new innovations and expand regional and international markets a new network of Artisans has emerged. Linking craft producers by means of a website and a data-base throughout the Caribbean from Guyana to Belize.
The Network aims to function on many levels:
For the Artisans the Caribbean Artisan Network offers a regional forum to connect with fellow producers to share experiences, knowledge and resources. Whether it be finding raw materials or discussing details of techniques, a personal link between craft workers is invaluable .The teaching and demonstrating of skills is being accomplished through inter-island workshops.
In June 2004 ancient pottery making techniques were reintroduced into the Carib Territory of Dominca, by Irene Alphonse, a Carib descent potter from St Lucia, during the same workshop traditional pole lathe furniture making was introduced by another St Lucian Carib, Emanuel Alphonse. Demonstrations of ecological jewelery making by Akilah Jaramogi of Trinidad have taken place in Tortola and Barbados and calabash carving has been taught in the Virgin Islands by the Dominican carver Ezekiel Jean Babtiste. It is these kinds of exchanges that preserves and disseminates knowledge as well as giving new energy to our craft culture.
For hotels, gift shops and interior designers the Artisan Network is an ideal way of connecting with regional artisans. For us the word “local” means the Caribbean. Our identity is shamed and our visitors disappointed when they find shops full of crafts from the Far East. Buying crafts through the network helps to build our region. And there is nothing healthier for the Caribbean economy than inter-island trade.
For Governments the Artisan Network can provide an excellent base from which to source skilled artisans for educational purposes and culturally significant events .Schools and Colleges through out the region can use the network for invaluable access to Artisans who can teach skills to the next generation. .An understanding of historical continuity and a sense of cultural identity give the youth incredible strength to face the challenges of the globalized world.
For the Media the Caribbean Artisan Network offers a unique and convenient resource base for both the print and film industries. Travel magazines, guide books and film companies who are looking for cultural content in their productions can get a special insight into the region through a link with the Artisans.
In an effort to help promote and finance the Caribbean Artisan Network a six part television series is currently being produced, entitled “The Power of Craft”. The focus of the series will be an island by island documentary study of the living Craft Culture of the Caribbean. An on going campaign to attract business sponsorship for the network is underway.
The Caribbean Artisan Network has high hopes of helping regional institutions to benefit from association with the artisans of the Caribbean ,as well as assisting the Artisans in their efforts to make a living from their talents , in a sustainable relationship with nature. We believe in the power of craft to creatively counter the homogenization of culture and to give Caribbean people cultural pride and identity in the wider world.