A Peace Treaty
BY Annie Waterman | March 22, 2012
Rajasthani desert artisans
Ancient civilizations, amulets, talismans, old ritual emblems, and matriarchal leaders inspire A Peace Treaty’s ever evolving collection of jewelry and accessories. This social enterprise continues to amaze in its innovation as each line of work helps to resuscitate generations-old, family-run crafts businesses at risk of extinction. They travel far and wide, creating employment opportunities for skilled artisans working in places of socio-political conflict. Their hand crafted accessories and apparel connects fashion with ancient tradition, inspired by ancient techniques throughout the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
A Peace Treaty's gorgeous scarves are not to be missed as the designs vary season to season. In Nepal, India and Pakistan, the team work with hand weavers, silk-screeners and block-printers in villages all over in addition to bringing dip-dyeing, sewing and printing work to widowed or disabled women. Featuring a small selection of limited edition pieces, the line called "Adire" is stunning. Inspired by vibrant West African prints, A Peace Treaty commissioned artisans to create special wood blocks for printing the negative form. The "Les Coeres" collection draws inspiration from the foothills of the Himalayas. The artisans work with playful, visual patterns that they hand-print onto the softest of cashmere. These are more than works of sheer beauty, but a way to raise awareness around these ancient, crafting traditions.
But it was their collection of camel bone jewelry that caught my eye. A Peace Treaty actively work with Rajasthani desert artisans to preserve ancient camel bone carving techniques. “Inspired by eastern jaunts of disco items from the 70’s”, A Peace Treaty employs desert artisan families to craft hand-carved, gold plated tribal brass pieces, using centuries-old techniques and recycled materials.” Designers Farah Malik and Dana Arbib have a way of seamlessly fusing the old with the new. The collection entitled 'Thar' consists of pieces that are reminiscent of the Thar gypsies’ ancient civilizations, and include items such as heirloom earrings and gorgeous amulets with protective openings.
The idea to work with rare camel bone came about after weeks of in-depth research. The team at A Peace Treaty began to notice the obliteration of this trade, beginning in the '70s. Due to the influx of resins and plastics in the marketplace, there has been little demand for arduous carving. This long lost tradition of camel bone jewelry dates back to the beginning of nomadic culture. Farah Malik, half of the design duo says, “Camel meat, milk, bone and leather have all been trade items and part of the way of life and culture of nomadic people in the desert. Traditionally, nomadic people throughout this area used all parts of the camel, therefore it was a highly sustainable practice to use the bone rather than discarding it to add to the landfills."
When asked about sourcing procedures, Farah relates it to a “word of mouth wild goose chase. Their commitment to the artisans goes beyond mere sourcing—they’ve engaged in their tradespeople and artisans in every step of the production process, from concept to market.” She adds, “It was nearly impossible to find bone carvers who were making any objects beyond the simple spoons or everyday ware.” This led them to journey to Rajasthan, where they did the groundwork in locating families and finding older generations to train their younger family members as a way to reinvest interest in the family trade.
Farah says, “The Thar are interested in us because our company is about building bridges across cultures and places where the artisans are caught in political volatility or the places are steeped in misperceptions (for US consumer audiences). We were also interested in this region because it has an arbitrary man-made border running through it. The Thar desert gypsy traditions are the same in Pakistan and in India but sadly the national boundary makes it seem that they are two different worlds. I'm Pakistani so I also had a personal mandate to work across the border with an old "foe." The irony is that while this project was seen as a pact in my mind I'm not being granted visas to return any longer!”
A Peace Treaty is dedicated to their mission despite the ongoing challenges they face with to customs and duty officials. “Customs come to the forefront has as agents have a real hard time categorizing the material… they are keen to believe that any high quality and exotic bone jewelry assumed is ivory. There is a lack of support from the industry and bureaucracy posed around the use and export of this material. Also cutting bone in larger shapes can be hard - since you have to find pieces that all allow for consistency. The fashion industry has been corrupted by machine made conveyor belt uniform goods and forget to judge goods by other markers and factors than just matching measurement, shape and color.” She adds, “In India, exporting the material has proven to be difficult because the authorities refuse to believe that we are not exporting cow bone. In the US, the authorities waste so much of our time making us get paperwork to prove that the material is not ivory. It is also touchy because some of the artisans that we work with to do our metalsmiths are Jain and they do not want to even touch the camel bone pieces when it comes time to finishing the final pieces (which are always half gold-plated brass and half bone)! There were so many groups' sensitivities having to be looked after that by the end of each production round and shipment I'd be ready for some major nurturing myself!” Despite the hurdles, they remain steadfast to their strict philosophy of returning traditional production back into the hands of its original artisans.
For more information please visit: www.apeacetreaty.com.