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Kathmandu Mini Maker Faire is happening on September 24th / 25th, and I’m incredibly excited. I’m sad I won’t be there to see all the exciting things people have been doing, and how far the community has come since we started the Monsoon Collective back in 2012. From Karkhana’s Kid Zone to #MakerKT, RAN, and the likes, it promises to be a real testament to a new and young generation of Nepalis doing it themselves, innovating, and thinking hard about creativity and critical thinking.

Kathmandu Mini Maker Faire Website

As the maker community builds further in Nepal, though, I see a challenge (as well as an opportunity): how do we think about and integrate traditional forms of making into this new community and movement?

Many maker ketis have already been confronting this question: what qualifies as making? 3D printers and laser cutters: yes! Cooking? Hmm. Drilling and cutting with power tools: yes! Carpentry? Maybe. Bricklaying? Hmm. What about breaking stones?

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Is she “making” gravel?

There are many distinctions the maker movement makes, often invisibly and implicitly. Hidden biases filter in: biases of class, caste, gender, how dirty the activity makes you, and where the making process originates. These distinctions come out in what is facilitated, allowed, or solicited [1] to be at a makerspace or makerfaire. Language matters, too. I was happy to see that a version of the application to the Kathmandu Mini Maker Faire in Nepali, but was reminded that we still have work to do when I saw the term मेकर (the same word in a different script). 

The motivation of this essay comes partially from a moment this summer, when I decided to take woodworking classes in the few short weeks I was in Nepal. The day before I came back to the US, I showed my grandfather the carving I had made over two weeks of lessons. I expected him to be proud: good job for learning a Nepali craft. Instead, his reaction?

Oh, no!!!

You can’t do this laborer work. What’s the use of all that university education you’ve been getting?

It was similar to the attitudes I heard from my own instructor. She had trouble, in the beginning, understanding why I was there. Am I really trying to learn this? Why? What would I do with this in the US? At one point, she said: “I do this because I have to, you are doing this because you can, isn’t that it?” (Rough translation, the original was: म दु:खले गर्छु, तिमी सुखले गर्छौ, त्यै होइन त?)

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My instructor, drawing designs before carving. Me, carving.

These moments really highlighted for me how differently most Nepalis view “making.” Making robots: amazing, high tech, university stuff! Carpentry and carving: (daily wage) labor! And if you’re objecting, drawing a distinction between whether you’re writing the recipe or you’re cooking it, or whether you’re carving the pattern or designing it, remember that most of what gets printed on makerspace 3D printers are designs that have been downloaded from thingiverse.com.

This problem is worst in places like Kathmandu, where the making motivated by Maker Faires and makerspaces often uses imported tools, processes, and language. Sometimes they even reflect imported priorities; I see a lot of maker activities geared towards ultimately automated making. Should that be the case in Nepal? I’m not sure.

On a more constructive note (the intention here is to question and provoke action, not criticize), let’s think about what can be done to counter this trend. What can we do at the Kathmandu Mini Maker Faire that is happening in a few weeks?

SO MUCH.

What better an opportunity to do this, really, than in Kathmandu, a place that has such a rich history of craft? The city is a living museum, with rich centuries-long traditions in art, architecture, and craft. We have indigenous last names like ताम्राकार (bronze-maker), शिल्पाकार (craft-maker), चित्रकार (picture-maker), along with generations-long traditions of craft [2]. If we have work dating back from the 7th century, how far back must the actual traditions of making go?

Imagine the collaborations between a coder and a paubha painter or a carpet weaver [3]. Imagine the collaborations between a mechanical engineer and a woodcarver or brickmaker.  What could they come up with together?

There is a lot of innovation to be had by crossing disciplines, and it is a lovely opportunity for Kathmandu Mini Maker Faire to help the new, younger generation of DIY makers and tech hobbyists cross paths with the older, traditional generation of DIY makers that have created the beautiful city the faire will be hosted in. Think of what the two ways of thinking could build together. Think of what the combination of the “just do it” attitude and incredible expertise could do together. Think of how much the “new” maker community would learn.

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 Screencapture from Alternative Technologies website. The company makes software for carpet-making.

I’ll end the essay with some concrete ideas that a makerspace or makerfaire could use for inspiration to move in this direction:

  • Actively invite members from the carpentry, wood carving, metal working, stone work, basket weaving, and other communities to the event / space. Many of these communities have trade associations which can be a good entry point.
  • At the MakerFaire, have a learn-some-traditional-making-zone, where people can experience some initial lessons in traditional making / crafts from experts.
  • Hold a community discussion what Nepali terms could replace making and maker, and reflect an inclusiveness of many different kinds of making.
  • Create some intentional activities to get people from the new (electronics, engineering, robotics, automation-heavy) and traditional forms of making interact and create fusion ideas together.
  • Ask the traditional makers what to do to include them more!

THANKS to Robert Ochshorn, Miriam Pokharel-Wood, Dipeshwor Man Shrestha, Sakar Pudasaini, Priya Joshi and Sunoj Shrestha for contributing edits and thoughts to this essay.

[1] – While an application process is technically open, that doesn’t mean events and spaces are open to everyone. My guess is that traditional makers do not really know about the makerfaire, and even if they do, don’t understand the value that they or the makerfaire can provide the other. As a result, while open applications are probably enough to attract many of the newer generation of makers, we probably need to be proactive to invite in more of the traditional makers.

[2] – One of my instructors loved to ask the question: “do you know how many patterns are used in traditional Nepali woodcarving?” The answer is A LOT, but of course, given that the craft is passed down person to person, no one knows the actual answer. After you said you didn’t know, he would always reply with: “तिन हजार तिन सय तैँतिस” (3,333) and a laughter that expressed the perfectness of that made-up answer.

[3] – Some existing examples of collaborations between coders and carpet weavers: Alternative Technologies (which creates carpet design software) and Node (which turns illustrations into carpets).

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