The Real Barriers to Trade

by - Thursday, October 22, 2009

[Update Dec 4, 2009. The visa issue resurfaces in The Vancouver Globe and Mail - full text here ]

We run here Charllotte Kwon's introduction to Ashoke Chatterjee's presentation From Gandhi to Globalization: Craft and Human Development. Those of you who were at the lecture will understand why. Those who could not attend, please read on...

It is perhaps one of the proudest moments of my life to be able to introduce Ashoke Chatterjee as a presenter in the Maiwa Textile Symposium. Ashoke is one of the most eloquent voices for craft and artisans that we have ever known. He is both an activist and has a great presence which commands attention. He has clarity that guides and gently corrects us. Be we makers, farmers, or traders. He helps us find our own clarity and we rediscover why we do what we do.

At this point in holding our fifth symposium I deeply needed him to share his perspective on this symposium and I wanted the audience to be exposed to his ideas. He is direct and honest. I wanted him to give his opinion on the value of the symposium. I was prepared for one of two answers: Yes this has a great impact and is of importance to the survival of craft. No, Charllotte, your energy could be better spent elsewhere.

But it is with great sadness, frustration and a building anger that I must tell you that he cannot be here in person.

As many of you may know it is difficult to get Canadian visa’s for Indian artisans. We understand that there are many bureaucratic hoops and much paperwork involved in this process. But we have persevered over the years and been successful in bringing weavers from Bengal, embroiderers from the Kutch Desert, and blockprinters from Bagru and Kutch.

We begin this process in April in order to ensure a visa by October. We anticipate at least three rejections. You should know what is in the “Binder” that we provide for ALL artisans visiting from outside Canada. Three years of financial statements for Maiwa, letters from the Vancouver Museum, Welcome letters from the Governor General of Canada, The Minister of Culture, The Mayor of Vancouver. Three years of past Symposium books, promotional materials etc. The binder is about two inches thick when complete. We send a binder like that for each and every person we hope to visit Canada.

We were, however, quite shocked then when we were told that Mr. Ashoke Chatterjee, a man with impeccable credentials was denied a visa for entry to Canada. Mr Chatterjee spent 25 years as head of the India’s NID - National Institute of Design. He has been involved with institutional development at Shristi School of Design (Bangalore), Indus Valley School of Design and Architecture (Karachi), Royal College of Art (UK). He has been the director of Crafts Council of India and is currently honourary advisor. He holds a current US visa, a current UK visa and an expired Canadian visa.

The reasons given by the Canadian Government are that Mr Chatterjee has no business ties to Canada. Neither is the Maiwa Symposium considered a "legitimate business purpose." The denial is final and not open to appeal.

We had hoped to read welcoming letters sent to us from the Governor General of Canada and other political representatives and dignitaries. However, after this shocking and farcical refusal, we are too ashamed and embarrassed to accord that honour to a representative of the Canadian Government. The farce deepens when we read recent reports of the Canadian Government’s attempts to increase trade with India and Prime Minister Harper’s pending visit of November of this year.

We had gone through the application for the two Jawaja artisans – one a weaver and one a leatherworker. We knew this would be a challenge and were prepared. We’ve gone through three applications. Maiwa and the artisans met every question with an accepted answer and we both met every requirement - but still the application was denied.

This lecture tonight is really in two parts. To really understand the full scope of what is happening you must come back on the 27th to the Jawaja lecture. In my opinion this whole symposium is incomplete without the voice of the Jawaja group. It is, after all, for the artisans that we even have these discussions.

They have worked now for over a year preparing a workshop and a presentation. Next Tuesday when you will be priviledged to witness the multimedia presentation that they had hoped to present while they sat among us. This was created in collaboration with a team of NID students. This is part of their story. In addition they have prepared a lecture and samples of their work.
For the Jawaja group this was literally the opportunity of a lifetime. The first time ever that they were able to tell their story themselves.

We have organized a video conference solution to these problems. We have had a fantastic symposium thus far. We are mustering our strengths to overcome these difficulties. And I, personally am making a plea. We have all enjoyed an amazing program so far – we have learned, been moved, changed, been inspired, now I am asking you to come and support the Jawaja artisans next Tuesday. Tell your friends, tell your family, advocate. I assure you, you will not be disappointed – both tonight and the 27th will be very special evenings.

These are the issues of human development and trade. We are not speaking in the abstract. And so let me present Mr. Ashoke Chatterjee.

We encourage those who are indignant to express this in writing to any or all of the following:

Trade Minister Stockwell Day
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney
The Honourable Kevin Krueger, British Columbia Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts
Your local Member of Parliment

Here are some links to support materials:

Canada: Globe and Mail Dec 4 Rick Salutin - Or you can play the Jewish Card

India: Times of India Nov 17 Avoid Canada. Our ties with the country will grow better.

Canada: Globe and Mail Nov 13 Opportunity Knocks - Time to Pursue Free Trade With India

India: DNA - Ahmedebad Oct 24 Denied visa. artisans miss global meet

Canada: Globe and Mail Aug 22 India is Booming - Trade with Canada Isn't

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  1. Dear Charlotte and all at Maiwa. It is with great concern that I read of the visa denial to your distinguished guest Mr Askoke Chatterji. This is not the place in which to enter a lengthy discussion on the issue - sufficient to say that this action does not bode well for a planet whose future depends on open mindedness, trust, creativity at all levels and wisdom. I am deeply sorry and somewhat embarrassed. We face similar challenges here in Australia.

  2. It saddens me that the Jawaja artisans aplications were denied. I hope the presentation will be available to view in the future for I will not be able to attend. And I hope that next year the Jawaja artisans will be able to visit and a workshops will proceed.

  3. Dear Charlotte
    It is with great sadness that I have read your account of Canada's refusal to grant Mr Askoke Chatterji a visa to attend the Maiwa Textile Symposium.

    I have known him for many years, as Principal of NID, Chairman of the Indian Craft Council and Chairman of the UNESCO International Natural Dye Symposium in Hyderabad in 2006. I along with so many designer makers respect his knowledge; admire his dedication to design and his continued champion of Indian artisans.

    As a member of 'The Commonwealth of Nations', I feel that Canada has over looked their commitment to co-operate within a framework of common values and goals as outlined in the Singapore Declaration. These include the promotion of democracy, human rights, good governance, the rule of law, individual liberty, egalitarianism, free trade, multilateralism and world peace.

    Maiwa, who’s work is inextricability linked to the above values, supports and trades with so many Indian Artisans has been let down very badly by their own Government and the repercussions of this refusal will bring comment and condemnation from around the globe.

    Vivien Prideaux
    Dyer, Designer Maker
    Chairman of the Cornwall Craft Association, United Kingdom

  4. these kinds of short-sighted decisions made by petty bureaucrats who think of 'business' not education and understanding are not limited to your country. they happen the world over, when small power hungry people are having a bad day and need to take out their resentments on someone else.
    with best wishes

  5. In this world, consumer goods are allowed to travel anywhere, but not human beings. Because other human beings created artificial boundaries on a planet that has none.

  6. Today I wrote to Kevin Kruger as follows:

    I am writing to tell you how disappointed I am that the various government offices that approve visas for visiting artisans have chosen not to permit representatives of Jawaja Leatherworkers, including Ashoke Chatterjee, a world-renowned artist, designer and educator to attend a world-class symposium sponsored by Maiwa Handworks in Vancouver in October of this year. It's also interesting that the symposium was not considered to be a "legitimate business purpose".

    In our diligence to present BC globally as a place of supernatural beauty, the best place on earth and home of the Olympics, perhaps it was easy to dismiss a few artists and craftsmen from out of our country as not very important in the greater scheme of things. As wonderful as BC and Canada is, however, we are a blend and mix of many cultures, and we are the richer for that fact. To deny local artists the opportunity to hear from such a world-respected expert as Mr. Chatterjee and to suggest that the event he was invited to lacks legitimacy is both unwelcoming to him and disrespectful to the symposium organizing body and to the attendees.

    It also seems it was easy to dismiss Maiwa Handprints, and Charlotte Kwon, as "not a legitimate business purpose". If that were the case, then I suggest that perhaps the Gemini awards and other kinds of entertainment or sports-based events are also "not a legitimate business purpose". Ms. Kwon and Maiwa Handprints have almost singlehandedly preserved traditional cultural arts from India and shared them with artists and craftspeople from everywhere. Her outreach to the villages and artisans she has supported is a tribute to one person's dogged determination not to let culture die, and to ensure it can be passed on. I am quite certain the sold-out symposium this year, and several years ago, provided an economic boost to Vancouver, as many people travelled here to attend, and perhaps extended their visit to take in more of what we have to offer. How is that not good for BC? She has presented British Columbia and Canada in a very positive light by her work, and runs a good business besides.

    So, if in the future artisans of this nature apply to come to Canada to educate and enlighten us all, I hope you will support their application.

    Good day, Kevin.

    Solange Belleforte

  7. I am a newcomer in the academic field of crafts and have admired Mr. Chatterjee since I met him first in person at Natural dye Symposium at Hyderabad.
    presently my research is on "Administration is a bane to crafts and craft ecology".

    What better example than this that someone of the stature of Mr Ashoke Chatterjee is denied Visa for a craft symposium.

    I heard the podcast few days back and couldn't believe this has actually happened.


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