Woven Dreams

Rubab Nayeem Khan looks into the hand woven art of Manipuri textiles

For the longest time, Dhaka has seen various exhibitions such as art, photography, crafts, etc. With that being said, Oxfam, the international development organisation which has been working in Bangladesh since 1970, held not an exhibition, rather an “Exposition of Manipuri Handloom Textile Products” to raise awareness about the Manipuri traditions. The product brand is dubbed Moirang.
The event was held at Krishibid Institutions Complex (KIB Complex), Khamar Bari, Farm Gate on 8th and 9th April. Oxfam, in collaboration with their local partner Ethnic Community Development Organisation (EDCO), started this project in Sylhet and districts of Moulvibazar back in October 2014 and after six months the project finally reaped its fruits of labour in Dhaka. Renowned designer Chandra Shekhar Shaha played an integral part in guiding Manipuri women through the process.
Governor of Bangladesh Bank Dr. Atiur Rahman was present as the chief guest. Dr. Syed Md. Ihsanul Karim, Managing Director of SME Foundation, Snehal V. Soneji, Country Director of Oxfam, MB Akhter, Programme Manager, Oxfam and actress Afsana Mimi were also present as special guests to grace the occasion.
The Manipuri handloom textile products are known for its unique designs and textures, created with organic materials. To the Manipuri community, weaving is a reflection of their traditions. The distinct motifs were detailed and artistic for which they were in demand.
Due to changes in socio-economic conditions in Bangladesh, the production of Manipuri handloom textile products began falling. People started exploring the low cost garments and textile products. Many weavers left their occupation and those who are still in the profession have to struggle to keep their existence. Some use low quality materials such as low cost synthetic yarn which affects the quality of final products. Just when the pride of Manipuri textiles were beginning to fade away, Oxfam started the project by recruiting a hundred women from the Manipuri community. They were briefed individually as well as in groups via workshops.
The purpose of the event was to promote the Manipuri handloom technique, which over the years had lost its value. Chandra Shekhar Shaha said, “The quality benchmark of the product had not been maintained properly. As a result, the quality of aesthetics, colour combination and traditional art started deteriorating.”
The program was also an attempt to introduce the traditional Manipuri fashion in Dhaka with the hopes of ensuring economic sustainability and livelihood for the ethnic minority. Compared to other products, Manipuri textile weren’t that popular. The event in Dhaka was the first of its kind in Manipuri history to have showcased textile products crafted by Manipuri artisans.
“Vendors and retailers who work with handloom products in the urban areas will want to work with them. This will eventually yield in bigger orders, quality products and market linkage which in turn will increase demand and appreciation for Manipuri handloom products,” added Shaha. He also mentioned that if the weavers continue to practice their craft, they can most certainly revive what was lost.
The products reflected the socio-cultural aspects of the Manipuri community as well as the versatility in their style of weaving. The artisans were assigned to produce saris, dupattas, khes, shawls, mufflers and bags. They eventually improved the quality of products by using the original sixty twist cotton yarn with good quality dyeing process. Through this project, Oxfam explored the endless possibilities within the Manipuri weavers.