Charting a Contemporary Course for Traditional Craft Forms

How does one contemporarize traditional crafts without compromising on their purity? Taking heritage arts and crafts off the walls and elaborate mediums, designers today are bringing some of these into our homes through unique products, making them more accessible to a larger, appreciative audience.

Bidriware from Bidar, Karnataka

Bidriware Platter in Process

Striking strokes of silver against a deep, dark black, one that does not fade with time – these defining characteristics of bidriware from Karnataka in Southern India bear testimony to the fine craftsmanship involved in creating this metal inlay work.

Bidri craft is an arduous process involving steps that are all done by hand. The engraving or etching (khudai) is painstakingly done with a metal chisel. Inlaying (baithai) is either sheet work (patta ka kaam) or wire work (taar ka kaam), where either sheets or wires of pure silver are meticulously hammered into the grooves of the engraved design.

From engraving on vessels, serve-ware in the past, to contemporary use products such as pen-drives, staplers today, the few craftsman engaged in this work are adapting to the dynamic marketplace, trying to find a foothold among a wider, younger audience. Pooja Ratnakar of Potli has been working with these craftsmen to design products for the urban lifestyle, allowing this 500 year old craft to find new mediums.

Wooden Block-Carving from Pilkuwa, Uttar Pradesh

Wood Carved Tray by Organic Connect

Beautifully hand-carved blocks, created using Chaapa Kaam are crafted in high quality Sheesham wood by traditional block-carvers in Pilkuwa, Uttar Pradesh. Each piece carries delicate motifs, fine workmanship and the highly stylized design language inherent in the artisans’ craft. Inspired by the crafts and traditional hand skills of India, Tanveen of Organic Connect has been working to give these finely crafted traditional products a contemporary, utilitarian edge.

Gond Art from Madhya Pradesh

Gond Art Decor Products by Then an NowGond Art from Madhya Pradesh

Originally adorning mud homes as a symbol of good fortune, Gond art owes its origins to the folklore of the largest tribe community of India, the Gonds. Their subject matter extends from myths and folklore to images of daily life.

The traditional folk art of Gond by the Pradhans in the Gondwana belt of Madhya Pradesh is transported onto wooden trays, boxes, key ring holders, coasters and other home accessories by Uma Tewari of Then and Now, giving this unique dotted art form a place in modern homes.

Sanjhi Art from Mathura, Uttar Pradesh

Sanjhi Art Trays & Coasters by Crafel

Sanjhi is the ancient art of stenciling to make flower rangolis (decorative floor designs) from Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna. Unlike other rangolis (such as alpana) Sanjhi is not only used as stencil to decorate the temples but also make for objects of worship, mostly scenes from Lord Krishna’s life. Crafél, a curator of traditional crafts, designs handcrafted lifestyle products such as lamps, coasters, trays using Sanjhi Art.

Brass Inlay Work (Tarkashi) from Jaipur, Rajasthan

Brass Inlay Masala Dabba by Vibhuti SachdevSimilar to the wood block carving from Uttar Pradesh, a craft cluster in Jaipur is also involved in brass inlay work on wood, with the Rajasthan craftsmen believed to be descendants of inlay craftsmen from Manipuri in Uttar Pradesh. Working primarily on ornamental boxes and tables, their work can now also be seen on utility items like spice boxes for the kitchen, as designed by architect and scholar Vibhuti Sachdev who is showcasing this craft from Jaipur onto home items like Okhli, Mir-e-Mez, Chakla Belan, etc.

With design collaboration aimed at catering to the dynamic marketplace, these age-old crafts can continue to enjoy a pride of place within urban lifestyles. Even in their contemporary avatar they will bring old world magic into homes.

This article was first published in POOL Magazine.

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