Handicrafts give an overview about the cultural heritage of a specific region in a specific time and are defined as products made with the use of hands or feet (no exterior tools).This handmade production witnessed a development starting from the Industrial Revolution when new manufacturing processes have been introduced. This article will investigate on the changes that occurred at the level of handicrafts production before and after the Industrial Revolution.
1) Before the Industrial Revolution
In medieval time, artisans were making handmade products for everyday usage. Household items were used for either decoration or ceremonial purposes. Women Artisans used to spend most of their times working at home while their husbands took care of selling the products on the “Souk”. So, they were just marketing their products to local byers and tourists. It was widely noticeable that the handicrafts of medieval times seemed to be identical in terms of the motifs used, for instance handmade carpets and ceramics in Tunisia were commonly known by their Berber motifs: fishes as symbols of beauty and fertility, the lozenge, chevron, the M-shape, and the X-shape as 'female' symbols put in handwoven products. So, craft was the genuine poetic element and designs were not given too much importance; colors, shapes and symbols were the same in all handmade products. Despite the identical characteristics of the products at that time, handicrafts reached their highest standards and that may be only explained by the ideal working conditions and the quality of materials.
2) After the Industrial Revolution
Modern time is known as “the age of machine”, in which machines started to craft items faster and in a mass production. Artisans starting from the 20th Century were no longer concerned with making handicrafts for decoration and usage purposes; they rather looked for other horizons that may enable them to earn money and live a decent life. They ,also, highlighted the fact that handicrafts should be seen as a catalyst of the national tourism to position the country as a cultural tourism destination. So, personal purposes were removed in favor of purposes of the group, of the country, of the nation… These nationwide purposes can be summed up by economic growth, job creation, poverty alleviation and protection of the natural and cultural heritage. Unlike the period before the Industrial Revolution, diversification of handmade products was required, so, the notion of design was induced during the Industrial Revolution. Style, glamour, color and form of objects are given too much importance. Artisans have focused on developing a new line morphology through the use of new techniques like painting, sculpture and architecture in order to meet the needs of the actual area. In addition, modern time is characterized by an implementation of an online marketing strategy by the use of e-commerce and ICT initiatives. Products are no longer sold in local markets, artisans are now targeting international markets. Qartaj.com is a great example of an e-commerce company that enables Tunisian artisans to sell their handicrafts abroad(international level). In fact, the name of our online enterprise refers back to the Carthaginians, historically known for their commerce and trade activities.
In sum, the Industrial Revolution was a turning point in the handicraft sector, appearance of the machine helped to change the limited vision of artisans in previous times, globalization was also one of the key factors that led to the evolution of handicrafts over time.
Written by Maroua Mejri