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Commissioned by the Ministry of Culture, the exclusive show was unveiled at Kala Bhoomi in Bhubhaneshwar, Odisha
The first ever G20 summit held in India, in fact the first ever held in south Asia, the 2023 summit is a source of great pride and excitement in the country since early this year. And architect and designer Ashiesh Shah is celebrating a landmark moment of his career with G20 too—Atelier Ashiesh Shah has been nominated by the Government of India to present an exhibit for the G20 Summit.
‘Sustain: The Craft Idiom’ is a specially curated cultural project for the second G20 CWG meeting in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. The theme of the exhibition is predicated on and reflective off the second priority of the Culture Working Group (CWG)— ‘Harnessing Living Heritage for a Sustainable Future.’ We got an exclusive peek into the exhibition held at the beautiful Kala Bhoomi, Odisha Crafts Museum last week with three constituent experiences—Stambh, Akshara and demonstrations by master artisans and teachers.
Starting 15th May, the presentation by Ashiesh Shah showcased a selection of 26 ‘Stambhs’ that embody the experimentation of the Atelier with craftsmanship and techniques with regional artists and master craftsmen. For Ashiesh, the idea for ‘Stambh’ came about through the Atelier’s ongoing exploration of indigenous living craft practices. “It is a compilation of the journey that brings different craft villages together with a common symbol. Celebrating the philosophies of geometry, sustainability and empowerment, the presentation is simply a composition of inventiveness, tapped by artists, coming together to narrate tales of evolving aesthetics and craftsmanship.” says Ashiesh.
Among the exceptional pieces on display, some pillars represent a marriage of two disparate crafts and states. “Each object within this exhibition tells a captivating story, a testament to the creative synergy that arises when tradition and innovation converge,” he adds.
We spoke to the designer about Stambh, how rich traditions of craftsmanship intertwine with the dynamic forces of modernity, empowerment of artisans and more. Edited excerpts from the interview:
Ashiesh Shah: The Atelier promotes the localisation of resources through a re-contextualisation of Indian craftsmanship by integrating experimentation, artisanship and technique into a creative ecosystem for collaboration and development. Indian Mythology, Indian form, and tribal geometry have greatly inspired me. I firmly believe in embracing the raw and unapologetic tribal philosophy of design, and it has become a guiding principle in my work. My ultimate goal is to infuse the essence of Indian culture, with all its vibrant diversity, into my creative endeavours.
AS: This journey has brought forth multiple revelations about the process and intricacies of the craft. Undoubtedly, numerous challenges have emerged along this journey. For example, Channapatna, with its inherent scale constraints, presents a unique obstacle—as the beads are meticulously "handmade," we had to ensure consistency in form, colour, and size to fit them together seamlessly. We wanted to achieve the Indigo colour. However, it used to bleed to black by the end of the process. When we worked with the Longpi artisans in Manipur who created works of black pottery, we realised that the maximum they could take the craft was tento eleven inches. We wanted to go up to thirty inches. That was finally managed through interactions with the potters, by understanding the traditional processes, the kiln, the temperature and other aspects. We were thus able to evolve the craft to a different scale. The Dhokra process requires multiple pieces to be made for even one to come out right.
AS: Our mission is to empower artisans through the design of objects that embrace native craft techniques, materials, and processes, while advocating for ecologically responsible production practices and resource management. In today's contemporary landscape, the value of a craft is intrinsically tied to an artisan's ability to adapt and evolve with the changing times.
Noor Salma, a master craftsman, from the native village of Channapatna challenged the norms of a male-dominated industry when she immersed herself in this craft. Today, this small-scale industry has become the backbone of the local economy, owing to contemporary collaborations. Another example is of artisans Avinuo and Diti from the Naga community. Avinuo had knowledge passed down from her mother with limited practice, while Diti, a textile weaver, was new to the craft. Both women in their twenties challenged the usual demographics of artisans. This collaboration opened doors to challenge deep-rooted conventions and embrace new possibilities.
The far-reaching effects of such collaborations result in dynamic apprenticeships and active involvement of families and communities, creating valuable employment opportunities and fostering significant potential for growth and development for the community.
AS: To me, art, design, and architecture are not distinct entities; they all exist on the same platform. I design objects that sit in contemporary living but could be something that you look back a hundred years from now and still find it extremely relevant and meaningful. It is very important to bring your language to craft, to contemporize crafts. When artists or designers bring their language to crafts, it makes the craft important as the uniqueness of the object comes in.
Each craft carries its own philosophy, and we have embraced diverse philosophies in our practice. However, this should not limit future designers or artists from working with artisans and creating their own distinct language within the craft. This is precisely the concept behind our endeavour to create "Stambhs"—they serve as exemplars of how crafts can be harnessed, showcasing what an artist's or designer's vision can accomplish through the intrinsic materiality and the skilled hands of master artisans.
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