February 11, 2014
An exhibition of handcrafted design in India
BE OPEN Made in… India, an exhibition of handcrafts, is showing in New Delhi at the Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts, on till 28th February 2014 In recent years, there has been a visible revival of crafts in the contemporary fashion, product, and design industries. This tendency is especially pronounced in the Indian subcontinent, […]
BE OPEN Made in… India, an exhibition of handcrafts, is showing in New Delhi at the Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts, on till 28th February 2014
In recent years, there has been a visible revival of crafts in the contemporary fashion, product, and design industries. This tendency is especially pronounced in the Indian subcontinent, which has historically been home to a multitude of craft traditions. In trying to distinguish that typical yet subtle Indian aesthetic, designers are going backwards and forwards at the same time, experimenting with not only color, texture, form, but also the delicate matter of working with local craftsmen, resolving business, labor and ethical issues.
The Be Open Made in India exhibition addresses some of these issues. Opened at the Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts in New Delhi last week, the show brings together some 200 works by twenty-three Indian designers whose style is marked by a strong crafts ethos. The designs range from traditional kitchen utensils and crockery in metal alloys, hand hammered or chiselled, to handembroidered silk and ikat robes, to light fixtures inspired by local festival motifs. They combine contemporary form with techniques rooted in ancient handcraft cultures; in doing so, they show a possible way forward for Indian crafts.
While half of the 600-sq mt space is a showcase of these designers’ work telling their own story, the other half of the exhibition space has been utilized to echo the same sentiment but in a different, more minimal and experiential way. Kept devoid of any works and intended to create a sense of luxury, this space—and an installation within it—is titled Samskara, and has been designed by architect Anupama Kundoo.
A view of Samskara, a handmade granite installation, by Anupama Kundoo
Grey granite slabs run down the center of the space in an undulating fashion that recalls the figural patterns and forms of Mughal architecture. More crucially, the granite was not machine-polished, but hand-levelled, a laborious process that reveals a texture very different from the shiny, reflective ‘hotel lobby’ granite finish. In essence, it speaks to the concept of Samskara, or "making perfect" in Sanskit, and the thematic thread underlying the exhibition.
For this particular installation, Kundoo collaborated with a community of granite stone-chippers in Tamil Nadu, in the south of India. Whether it’s the marble workers of the Taj Mahal or the sandstone workers of Fatehpur Sikri, India has seen a tradition of resilient handworkers chipping away at stubborn, harsh stones to create something as delicate and intricate as latticework. Kundoo decided to re-create some of that magic at the Made in India show: “I chose to work with this remarkable group of artisans, [the same type of artisans] who originally produced the grinding stones found in every Indian household for grinding fresh ‘masalas’ (spices), an endangered product in an urbanising India, where electric grinders are increasingly replacing them."
Currently based at University of Queensland in Brisbane, Kundoo is known for weaving in local crafts materials, techniques, environmental and socio economic contexts into her architecture. For her Wall House at the Venice Architecture Biennale last August she took with her a team of Indian craftsmen to Italy to construct a replica of a house inside the Arsenale. This team of craftsmen had never before travelled out of the country, and they worked with students of University of Queensland and the IUAV in Venice on the construction. They used hand-made Indian clay bricks and terracotta—traditionally used for making earthen cooking pots in India—for the ceilings of the structure.
Kundoo readily admits that her country essentially informs her work, but that it’s only one point of departure for her. She is conscious of the fact that that which she values much has been slowly slipping away in time, and hence her work’s obvious agenda is conservation. “As an architect originating from India, it is unthinkable that my work would not be influenced by India’s rich artistic and cultural heritage. However, I am increasingly concerned that the collective wisdom, local knowledge, expertise and skills of India’s craftsmen are endangered by the pressure to standardize, mass produce, and mechanise production,” she says.
A stone-chipper at work in Tamil Nadu, India
The installation, along with the design works it contains, is an attempt to bring the luxury of bespoke closer to the practice of craft, by virtue of skill and labor. “While the exhibition reveals the luxury potential of craft, for me the real luxury is the sheer time devoted to the making process; neither the craftsmen nor the users have any sense that they are ‘wasting’ time," Kundoo says. "I firmly believe, that tradition, progress and evolution should co-exist. Its a delicate balance to keep them all in harmony, but they do very clearly learn from and enhance each other—so it’s to our benefit.”
While none of the exhibits are for sale, a few select items will be sent for auctioning during BE OPEN's event at Milan World Expo in 2015. The proceeds will be extended into the Young Talent Award fund.
Be Open's Made in India exhibition runs through February 28th.