One of the key highlights every year at the AD Design Show in Mumbai, is the Karigar Pavilion, a space where craftspeople from different parts of India gather to demonstrate their skills to visitors. The lineup for this year features seven varied craft forms, each unique to a different region, but playing an essential part in enriching our craft heritage. From basket weaving in Karnataka and gudari making in Rajasthan, to kantha stitch of Kolkata and miniature art from Jaipur, watch these and more as some of the most talented karigars of the country showcase their handcrafted skills. The Karigar Pavilion is supported by the JSW Foundation, and one of the organisations preserving these craft forms will also be awarded the 2023 AD x JSW Prize for Contemporary Craftsmanship at the AD Design Show.
Reviving Himachal Pradesh’s traditional woodwork called Dhajji Dewari, this booth will highlight the intricate workmanship and handmade process of the craft, demonstrated by two karigars. Thakar Chand will showcase the art of kathkuni or joinery, while Satish Kumar will display the art of wood carving and carpentry. Dhajji originated as a fabric quilt patchwork craft, with cross-knits and fabric patches used in its making. It later evolved to Dhajji Dewari in the mountains where its materiality changed to wood, stone and mud, for making houses that are earthquake-resistant and eco-friendly.
Explains Rahul Bhushan, the founder of NORTH, a creative studio practising sustainable architecture in Himachal, “Artisans lay the wooden pieces to form cross-braced patterns and chisel the stones to place them in between the frame. Mud is used as a base to combine the two materials into a wall. Each frame is handcrafted with intricate details for hours, that eventually comes together as a climate-responsive home. The last layer is carving the wood to depict folklore. The communities in Himachal have practised this art for thousands of years.”
Handwoven rugs have often showcased Indian craftsmanship, but when they are noticed on a global platform, the impact is higher and far-reaching. At this year’s Met Gala in New York City, one of the things that made headlines was the white carpet covering the coveted steps of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where celebrities stopped to pose. The carpet was, in fact, handcrafted in Kerala, India, and later painted by artists in New York. Neytt, the rug-making company that weaved the carpet for the event, will showcase its prowess at the AD Design Show too.
Craftsman Thiyagarajan will demonstrate the art of rug weaving whilst also highlighting Kerala’s heritage that is evident in rugs created by Neytt. Using the finest sisal fibres derived from the agave plant, Neytt creates rugs that revive traditional art forms and exhibits them on a stage for the world to behold, appreciate and applaud. Its recent collections have featured rugs displaying Aranmula Kannadi, an essential symbol of Kerala’s crafting tradition; and Vallamkali, that takes cues from the myriad aspects of boat racing in Alappuzha.
Colourful quilts or gudari, native to the nomadic Kalbelia tribe of Rajasthan are often used to welcome guests, especially at wedding ceremonies. These layered quilts are entirely handmade, and often feature vibrant embroidery with designs depicting the tribe’s way of life. An age-old tradition, gudari making is done by women with each piece being unique in its stitch and style. At the AD Design Show 2023, catch Nati Bai and Lad Bai of the Kalbelia community showing you the art of gudari making in all its glory.
In 2020, Kota Heritage Society (KHS) set up the Kalbelia Craft Revival Project near Bundi in Rajasthan, to preserve this traditional skill as well as provide a livelihood to the women of this community who had to fend for themselves. From offering them daily wages for their skills, providing good quality raw material, and letting them show their creativity in their quilt designs, KHS has revived not just this craft but also their lives. The skilled artisans have since showcased their work at exhibitions and are in a constant endeavour to better their craft and set up their own business.
Using locally grown, natural materials to make sustainable products has been part of several Indian villages, but streamlining this skill and adding value to the artisans’ lives through a community project is not always the case. The Kishkinda Trust in Karnataka is doing so by creating or growing ‘heritage resources’ and aiding in rural development. Basket weaving is one of their key practices and rural women have been trained in this craft form for over two decades.
At the Karigar Pavilion this year, meet Mahadevamma who will exhibit the nuances of basket weaving using natural fibres. She started as a rope-maker 20 years ago, and is now an artisan who has mastered different techniques and upskilled herself. ‘Natural Fibre Futures’ by The Kishkinda Trust is a great example of sustainable development, marrying heritage and progress while empowering communities in the Hampi region. From banana fibres to water hyacinth, they have ingeniously transformed them into a livelihood opportunity through innovative crafting.
Hand-embroidered fabrics have been an intrinsic part of Indian weaves and continue to gain prominence despite machine-made apparels. While the skill needed to embroider a piece requires years of training, it is often passed down from one generation to the next, creating communities of skilled artisans. For sisters Julia and Sita who run their eponymous hand embroidery studio in Chennai, it was their childhood spent watching skilled hands of embroiderers embellish silk chiffons with iridescent sequins at their Austrian mother’s atelier that led them to start their own years later. They set up a unit specialising in interior design and haute couture embroidery.
Through their studio, they celebrate embroidery as a medium of art, blending their Indo-Austrian heritage into the traditional craft. At the Karigar Pavilion, master embroiderer Ravi Dhanabal will demonstrate the art of embroidery. With over 30 years of experience, Dhanabal’s training began when he was six, and today, he possesses a wide variety of skills that are constantly evolving and adapting to modern aesthetics. Don’t miss the zodiac clock handmade using gold wire, gold thread and brass beads, at their booth.
Smaller in scale yet intricately detailed, miniature art has been practised for centuries, and even now there are painters who excel in it. One such award-winning artist is Riyazuddin from Jaipur, who began his artistic journey when he was 14. He gravitated towards the richly-detailed realm of traditional Indian painting, and set up his studio in 1988, where he developed his own language of contemporary miniature art. He inherited techniques of grinding stones into pigments and extracting natural dyes from his father, and the workings of the stylistic frameworks of the Pahari school of Rajput painting. Riyazuddin’s contemporary sensibilities and unorthodox approach has resulted in a delightfully surreal personal aesthetic — think Ganesha playing Holi and Radha-Krishna’s joyous Diwali. He will showcase his miniature artworks at the AD Design Show 2023.
KAASH, a cultural space in Bengaluru, has been working closely with artists, craftspeople and designers in a bid to support, preserve and showcase India’s diverse craft traditions, indigenous art practices and cutting-edge contemporary design. It has collaborated with Riyazuddin too for an exhibition ‘Play’. KAASH regularly conducts talks, workshops and exhibitions centred around a curriculum of heritage craft practices and design themes.
The timeless beauty and cultural significance of the traditional Indian textile art of the kantha stitch holds relevance even today. It has stood the test of time and tells us tales of our glorious past and heritage through its woven narratives. Preserving and taking this legacy forward in a contemporary setting is HUSHNOHANA, a brand co-founded by Mahua Lahiri and Suparna Sen. It aims to sustain the museum-quality extinct form of West Bengal’s Nakshi Kantha, ensuring that this intricate craft continues to thrive in the 21st century. Mentored by Lahiri’s mother and Padma Shri Awardee Pritikana Goswami, the organisation empowers skilled artisans and raises awareness and appreciation for kantha embroidery as an art form on par with paintings.
A traditional Nakshi Kantha features a lotus in the centre with Tree of Life motifs at the four corners. The artisans at HUSHNOHANA, in their project ‘Rhythm of Charkha’ sectioned the rest of the kantha into eight parts, each depicting a different narrative ranging from Indus Valley Civilisation to the Swaraj Movement. “Through this project, we aim to showcase the harmonious blend of tradition and contemporary design, preserving the charm and heritage of old kantha in a new era,” says Lahiri. Meet her at the Karigar Pavilion along with artisans Soma Maity and Joba Das as they demonstrate this craft.