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Showcasing local artisans - ‘Shilpa Abhimani 2018’

The biggest event of Handicrafts in Sri Lanka, “Shilpa Abhimani 2018,” Presidential Handicrafts Competition and Exhibition, and International Crafts Festival was inaugurated at the Sapphire Banquet Hall, BMICH, on September 12, 2018 under the patronage of Industry and Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, Deputy Minister, Buddhika Pathirana and the High Commissioner of India, Taranjith Singh Sandhu. Today, (16) is the final day of the exhibition. It is an excellent opportunity for those who love attractive handicrafts to view and purchase beautifully decorated artisan creations made by the magical hands of our own craftsmen.

The National Crafts Council and the Ministry of Industry and Commerce have hosted contemporary and innovative projects to felicitate craftsmen by preserving and developing the handicrafts sector in Sri Lanka.

Visiting the stalls and speaking to the different craftsmen was very interesting. K.A. Ajantha from Battaramulla sells accessories made out of clay, coconut shells and wood. Her stall was quite attractive, each bead in the chains and necklaces, skillfully crafted. The designs were unique giving emphasis to traditional Sri Lankan motifs and also incorporating modern designs. “This is the fourth time that I am participating in this exhibition. I get an opportunity to sell my products and make profits. I get to meet lots of customers, both local and foreign. My products are all made from raw materials from Sri Lanka. I am happy to be here today,” she said.

Kalyani Piyasinghe from Matara says, “I have been participating in the Shilpa exhibition for 15 years. I do tie and dye art using 100 percent cotton material. My creations are casual wear. I do workshops at home and many girls work with me. I am here today with my daughter, who is helping me to sell the products. I get new suppliers by participating in this exhibition and also small textile shops buy my products in bulk, on wholesale.”

G. S. Samath Nandasiri from Gampaha who has been participating for more than 20 years at the Shilpa exhibition said, “I have received several Presidential handicraft awards in the recent past. I create masks and other products using ‘Wel Kaduru Leeya’. This raw material is very rare. It is a traditional skill I have acquired, which I engage in at home and put out to the shops.”

Sri Lankan handicrafts have a history running into millenniums. The production of Sri Lankan handicrafts, with the exception of Jewelry, is essentially a cottage industry: products are turned out making use of natural raw material by means of time tested, age-old techniques.

Sri Lanka’s ancient social system with its Indo-Aryan roots has been largely instrumental in preserving traditional skills with its characteristic identity; certain arts and crafts were assigned to define socio-occupational groups. A wide variety of attractive handicrafts can be found throughout the island in shops, street stalls and government-run stores. Ivory and tortoise shell handicrafts once sold at large are no longer legal in the country.

There is an immense demand for these crafts in foreign countries. When one considers the individuals who are occupied in making the artwork, it is evident that they are mostly destitute people from rural areas. They hardly receive acknowledgment nor are they felicitated for their special skills and artwork. Perhaps, they lack the latest facilities to engage in their creations but Shilpa Abhimani, conducted annually encourages and motivates them a great deal.

The National Crafts Council (NCC) is an institution which coordinates matters relating to crafts. The NCC was established by Parliamentary Act No. 35 of 1982. Its ideals were promotion, development, fostering and preservation of handicrafts and the uplift of the social and economic status of craftsmen. During the past few decades, the NCC has initiated various projects and programs to preserve and develop handicrafts and ensure the future of handicrafts.

Speaking at the event, NCC Chairperson Heshani Bogollagama said, the NCC had begun organising programs with the intention of honing the skills of nearly 26,000 craftsmen in the country who are registered under the NCC. “Conducting this type of training, providing them with rare raw materials, giving them equipment necessary for their crafts and marketing facilitation are done through these programs,” she said.

Bogollagama says, the purpose of organising ‘Shilpa Abhimani 2018’ was to motivate local craftsmen and give value to their creations. She said, this is the only exhibition which provides opportunities for craftsmen in all parts of the Island to exhibit their talents and to be felicitated.

The NCC Chairperson said, since some issues existed in the fields of Arts and Crafts and the marketing industry in Sri Lanka, the exhibition would offer an opportunity for local craftsmen to directly present their products to the customers. “110 stalls have been put up for the craftsmen to exhibit their products,such as, silver jewellery, wooden masks, batik, coir products, intricate lace-work, wood carving, lacquer work, musical instruments and ceramics,” she added

Sri Lanka Exports Development Board conducts educational programs on behalf of the local craftsmen to help them find ways and means to export their products, capture the international market and develop the economy of the country. It is an initiative of the NCC and the Ministry of Industry and Commerce to take steps to uplift the lives of local craftsmen, who are isolated in society. This would provide them with the facility to master their products and enter the international arena of crafts.

Two Golden Awards with cash prizes worth Rs. 500,000 were awarded at the opening ceremony to S. G. Buddhika Balasooriya from the Central Province and K. M. Saman Kumara from the Northern Province, for their unique creations.

An international festival is also organized to provide the visitors and the handicraftsmen participating at the exhibition with an in-depth knowledge about the local and foreign handicrafts. There are 25 craftsmen participating in the exhibition representing India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Malaysia.

The traditional handmade designs are unique and some are one of a kind, so go grab your favourites while stocks last! The exhibition is open to the public from 9 am to 8 pm and entrance is free of charge

(Sunday Observer)

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