Road to Auroville: Why this commune attracts artists


Auroville is best known as a spiritual hotspot that attracts scores of people to its verdant, lush grounds, looking for peace and a meaning to their life. An ideal township, Auroville also attracts creative beings that are looking for a new approach to their life and work. Artists, designers and potters driven by their passion to realize their imagination, who want to stay rooted in Indian traditions of making things and seek inspirations that provide a blueprint for their creations often find their way to Auroville.

Like Samvit Blass of Light-Fish who moved to Auroville in 2010 to start this sustainable design company focused on using upcycled material to minimize waste. During his stint working for design firms in the west, Samvit realized how working to maximize the perceived value of the product through design often resulted in products that used materials like plastic which had little scope for repair and reuse if a part broke. That meant more trash for the landfills! Moving to Auroville, he changed his focus to adopting the philosophy of minimum waste and says, “There is a great sense of collaboration and sharing of knowledge when working with other Aurovilians. A lot of the principals that I apply to my work, I owe to Auroville and its vision.” Light-Fish uses fallen wood sourced from the Kamataru forest north of Auroville, along with upcycled materials to create lighting solutions and furniture and more; all aimed at reusing materials and reducing waste.

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Sustainability and waste reduction are also themes in collections by Auroville-based designer Naushad Ali who has done extensive work with natural indigo-dyed apparel. While aiming for simplicity and a minimalistic ethos in his designs, he is also mindful and appreciative of the laborious process required to coax the dye out of the Indigo plant and dyeing the fabric. That is why, every small piece of left over Indigo-dyed fabric is bundled up and kept aside to be re-used in newer pieces as patchwork. Escaping a chaotic, urban life, Naushad moved to Auroville in 2009 and finds the tranquil spaces at the commune make his work day that much more interesting. A NIFT Chennai graduate, he set up Studio Liam in 2010 to create a design line that aims to bring the glory of traditional crafts into the contemporary fashion scene.

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For some, like the architect turned designer, Tejaswini Mistri-Kapoor of Woodscapes, working from Auroville helps them stay close to nature and acknowledge its power. It is the forests around Auroville, the resurgent spirit of trees and their historic connections with humans that spike her imagination and help her create. Born in 2011 out of a desire to use the wood fallen off trees due to a furious cyclone, Woodscapes creates natural-edged furniture with beautiful organic shapes.  For the designer using fallen wood that seemed to be of no purpose is “a journey with nature’s fury” by creating new patterns of design that strike a fine balance between beauty and functionality.

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While sustainability and a respect for nature drive many artists, Angad Vohra of Mantra Pottery at the township says the team at mantra draws inspiration from everything around them to create pieces that are an artistic expression while being high on utility. Their imagination fired by the forms, colors and the simplicity of nature results in motifs that attempt to reflect this. According to Angad Vohra, “Apart from the nature theme I’ve always believed in empowering others to create art. I’ve never had any formal training in art and certainly none of my employees; but to discern a love and sensitivity for the aesthetic and to try and guide this, without dominating it, has always been an endeavor at Mantra.” Surrounded by the beauty of nature in Auroville, the potters and designers at Mantra create beautiful and usable ceramics, stoneware and terracotta tiles.

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Another creative endeavor from Auroville, Upasana Design Studio, mixes it all up into a wondrous amalgam. The label is a place where responsible design, wisdom of Indian culture, social business, and spiritual progress get woven together seamlessly. Creating clothes that go beyond beauty, the label believes in design for change and a sustainable future through fashion. Rakhee Kane, a celebrated studio potter, moved to Auroville in 2001 and since then has been creating objects both of beauty and utility. Committed to her life in Auroville, Rakhee’s focus has been on images, objects, colors and textures of India, something that she says has been influenced by Auroville philosophy and life.

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A deep, sustained connect with nature always translates into an object of beauty. But what is it about Auroville that brings in that extra bit for these artists? Anamika from Mandala Pottery says, “The atmosphere in Auroville is conducive for creativity, for discovery and wonder.” Mandala uses local materials as far as possible to fashion tableware which is beautiful and playful. Working in close contact with nature, the local people, fellow potters and with the ideals from Auroville, Anamika believes, “Creativity is at the same time the input and the engine which keeps us running in such a harmonious and happy way, driving us to provide a healthy environment where we work consciously with the materials and resources.”

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Find contemporary apparel, ceramics, furniture and pottery from Auroville designers here.

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