Designing sustainability

Amrita Prasad
Monday, 9 October 2017

Catching up with students of Symbiosis Institute of Design about their takeaway from Shilpkatha, their annual craft sustenance initiative

Symbiosis Institute of Design (SID) held its annual craft sustenance initiative titled ‘Shilpkatha’ over the weekend at its Vimannagar campus. The institutional objective of this event is to conserve and bring about a product diversification of heritage Indian crafts. Anupam Bhatia, assistant professor Fashion Communication, SID, is also associated with Shilpkatha.

Students from all disciplines explored crafts from Odisha, West Bengal, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and so on. Some of the showcased crafts included Phool Patti from Uttar Pradesh, Soof from Gujarat, Phulkari (Punjab), Chamba Rumal (Himachal Pradesh), Rosewood inlay (Mysore).

An exhibition of the students’ works including garments and products developed using these crafts, was held and artisans from these places were also invited to participate and conduct workshops for promoting their crafts. A short film made by the Video Film Design students was also showcased as an extension to this activity and a seminar and panel discussion on the theme of ‘Crafts: Design, Luxury Compatibility and Management’ was also hosted by those working for craft sustenance.

We caught up with some of the students...

HELPING THROUGH DESIGN
“We designed a booklet about the classic crafts of India which had some of the data that our Graphic Design batch of 2015-19 had collected as part of craft documentation. We included the crafts of Thushi, Jamdani sarees, Thanjavur and Bidri plates. During the process of collecting data and documenting it, we realised the day-to-day issues faced by the craftsmen, their struggle for recognition and the need to make people realise the importance of heritage crafts of India,” says Janvi Lalwani, who worked along with Prapti Panchal, Mrinmayee Kulkarni, Poornima Iyer and Pooja Yadav, students of Graphic Design Third Year and Post Graduation final year.

The opportunity was an eyeopener to all of them. “Though we studied a single craft — Kolhaputi thushi for craft documentation, for the booklet, we took up more crafts which gave us an opportunity to know about the other crafts and make them a part of our booklet,” says Lalwani. 

The craft of Thushi is very fine and delicate and one of the artisans was a former judo player. He inspired the students to be versatile and passionate about their work. “Working with Thushi artisans helped us understand the details involved in handicrafts. The unorganised Indian craft sector limits the share of the craftsmen in the new markets. These craftsmen have no means of understanding, accessing and adapting their products to new and emerging markets. Design thinking can be the much-needed tool to help the sustainability-led craft industry to generate business opportunity. The involvement of designers with craftsmen can help create awareness and desirability for the craft,” she adds.

EMPATHY
A team comprising Riya Pandhare, Mahika Naik from Fashion Communication and Ashwini Tudu from Fashion Design worked on Phoot Patti Ka Kaam, an embroidery from Uttar Pradesh. 

“For our craft, Phool Patti Ka Kaam, originating from the remote interiors of Aligarh, we came up with a solution to tackle one of the major issues faced by the craft — low market visibility and craft recognition. While the Fashion Design students created an elegant collection of garments, the Fashion Communication students developed an interactive zine publication targeted towards young design students as a means of research. Altogether, our exhibition reflected the grace and sophistication of the craft itself, through the delicacy of the English high tea set up and usage of pastel hues,” says Pandhare. 

Working on one-on-one basis with the artisans has been one of the most fulfilling experiences for Tudu and her fellow design students. “It taught us the value of empathy — something that a formal institution cannot inculcate. The interaction with the rural artisans inspired us not only to enhance India’s position in the handicrafts market, but also to fulfil our social obligation to empower the lives of these skilled artisans. Ultimately, this experience extracted us from the isolation of metropolitan cities and helped us reconnect with the rich cultural heritage of our country,” says Tudu.

RESPONSIBLE DESIGNERS
Final year Product Design student Pavithra G, along with Nancy Sam, Manish Dumpala and Sahil Pacharne, worked on Jaipur blue pottery. Pavithra says that while staying in Jaipur to learn the craft, they got to know a lot of things about the blue pottery, the habitat of the artisans and also more about Indian  culture. “Before we went to Jaipur, all we thought about blue pottery was that these products are made just for decoration purpose but after going there, we also learnt that the products can be customised and made according to our designs. It takes 20 days to make one article and we need patience to get such an amazing output. Also it is a trial and error method, there is no guarantee of the product getting fired properly in the furnace without any defect. So perseverance and handwork are very important for a person to create a wonderful piece of art.”

When asked how, as young designers, they will help Indian crafts, Pavithra says that as product designers, it will be really great if they could implement the style of the craft in their products and make great products for the world with an Indian touch. “What we need to understand is that even in this world of industrialisation and machinery, the authentic blue pottery is hand crafted. The beauty and essence of any piece of art lies in the hands of the artisans, so we should stand up against the machine-made blue pottery to keep the authenticity of the craft alive,” she adds.

CREATING A PLATFORM
“Students today are eager to embrace Western culture without fully appreciating Indian heritage in terms of crafts and culture. This prompted us to bring the students and artisans together. Shilpkatha is a culmination of a craft documentation project that students of second year undertake wherein they travel to various parts of the country and spend a good week or so with the artisans documenting and learning the craft from them. On returning, the students work to take the craft forward through developing, packaging, branding, garments, diversified products, craft films and so on. This enables them to be sensitised about the artisans, their socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, significance of the craft, techniques, supply chain systems and other aspects of the craft. With Shilpkatha, we also provide the artisans an opportunity to display their crafts, participate in discussions about craft sustenance, give craft demonstrations and also conduct a sale of their craft to the general public.”
— Sanjeevani Ayachit, officiating Director, SID

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