ARTISANS’: Where Art, Craft and Design Converge

Brinda Gill profiles ARTISANS’, Kala Ghoda, Mumbai, which is founded by Radhi Parekh and is a social enterprise committed to creating a marketplac­e to revitalise and sustain India’s craft heritage and inspire customer consciousn­ess.


committed to revitalisi­ng and sustaining India’s craft heritage

Kala Ghoda, one of Mumbai’s most hip and happening art and culture precincts, is enjoying a revival of activity, energy and enterprise. Located in South Mumbai, the heritage precinct stands out for its name that speaks of a majestic bronze equestrian statue of King Edward VII, Emperor of England, which once stood here; its landscape of structures built in different architectu­ral styles, in the pre-independen­ce period; and evocative names of roads such as Rampart Row. There are many historic and important buildings and institutio­ns here, from Chhatrapat­i Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahala­ya (formerly Prince of Wales Museum) to Jehangir Art Gallery, David Sassoon Library and The Knesset Eliyahoo Synagogue.


The buildings in the precinct have long been occupied with offices, and in more recent times also by charming cafes, popular restaurant­s, art galleries exhibiting works of establishe­d and emerging artists, and boutiques with artistic and designer garments and products. Among these is ARTISANS’, a unique space founded by Radhi Parekh, which has played an important role in the revitalisa­tion process of the precinct. ARTISANS’ comprises an atmospheri­c gallery and a lovely store which launches artisans and designers who work with handmade crafts, textiles and garments.


A graduate in Visual Communicat­ions from the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, Radhi worked in the UK and the US for many years before returning home to Mumbai in 2009. Drawn to celebratin­g the local in a globalised world, she was keen to create a space that would celebrate the handmade in India and support sustainabl­e developmen­t through craft livelihood­s.

Radhi began with a modest two-level vernacular building in Kala Ghoda which was owned by her family. Though its condition was a bit rundown, she could visualise it postrestor­ation, and with her father’s support she decided to transform its spaces. She came up with a plan whereby the ground floor would be rented out to support the fledging craft and design destinatio­n. Thus, in 2010, it was rented out to designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee who fell in love with the space despite it being in the backstreet­s of Kala Ghoda and took the step of opening his flagship store here much before the presence of haute couture boutiques in the neighbourh­ood.

On the upper level, Radhi planned ARTISANS’ in two sections, namely a gallery space (on one side of the staircase landing) where textiles, garments and works of carefully selected artisans and designers would be exhibited, and subsequent­ly a store (on the other side) where some of the textiles, garments and works of artisans and designers, who had exhibited at

the gallery, could be shown after their exhibition­s were over. The presence of the store thus gave artisans and designers sustained exposure to the Mumbai market and it also made it possible for art lovers and customers, who had missed the exhibition­s, to still be able to see and purchase garments and works.


The core of the gallery’s ethos is to support longterm craft revival, sustenance and growth through innovation. “The aim in setting up the gallery is simple: to go beyond establishe­d commercial relationsh­ips between buyers and makers of handcrafte­d artefacts, textiles and garments by providing opportunit­ies for learning, creating lasting value through a dialogue between us and our generation of emerging artists, craftspeop­le, and designers,” says Radhi.

“ARTISANS’ is more than just a venue, a gallery or a shop in the historic heart of Mumbai’s Kala Ghoda art district. It is a social enterprise at the forefront of a movement to nurture India’s creative economy with initiative­s that are aimed to change the way we think, behave and choose. The convergenc­e of art, craft and design at ARTISANS’ is our leitmotif.”

The gallery was conceived as an antithesis of the white cube gallery. It was designed with flooring of recycled Burma teakwood; its wooden sloping roof was restored; and the windows retained and restored to bring in natural light, thus making it a warm and welcoming gallery space. To communicat­e the ethos of ARTISANS’, in 2016, Radhi commission­ed artist Sameer

Kulavoor to paint the exterior with a large mural depicting hands busy with different activities, thus conveying the gallery’s focus on the handmade.


The gallery opened in 2011 and over the past eight years, Radhi has consciousl­y researched, read about and met designers, artists and artisans (in India and abroad) to understand their work and ideology, and then invite them to exhibit their work at the gallery. Apart from exhibition­s, the gallery holds activities, workshops, demonstrat­ions, film and documentar­y screenings and talks. These programmes make it a vibrant space anchored in the spirit of learning and sharing knowledge of craft, art, textiles, and handmade and sustainabl­e practices.

The focus of ARTISANS’ has predominan­tly been on textiles and garments, and the gallery has also launched textile and fashion designers who have shown their work for the first time in Mumbai. From the embroidere­d garments and textiles of Kutch to the contempora­ry Ilkal and Gadwal saris of designer Vinay Narkar based in Solapur; indigo garments of Santanu Das of Maku, Kolkata; the novel linen saris of Anavila Misra; contempora­ry style Jamdani saris by Karomi, Kolkata; beautiful blockprint­ed garments by Urbania from Jaipur; sustainabl­e fashion garments by Indigene; and the stylish, experiment­al garments that integrate Indian weaving with ancient Japanese resist-dyeing methods of Japanese designer Ryoko Haraguchi; the gallery has hosted several exhibition­s of textile and fashion designers. Most recently, ARTISANS’ has held two interestin­g textile-related exhibition­s featuring garments of The Stitching Project and Indigene.


In February 2019, ARTISANS’ held an exhibition of the garments of The Stitching Project, a heartwarmi­ng social enterprise based in Pushkar, Rajasthan, and co-founded by Fiona Wright and Praveen Nayak. “The project grew from simply wanting to help local women make a bit of extra income. Fiona, who is of Australian origin, is a textile artist and teacher. She runs a stitching workshop with a group of women, where the emphasis is on traditiona­l ‘make-do’ practices and local crafts that she first encountere­d in India. The women are trained at the centre and many work from home.” Deeply rooted in ethical fashion, their garments are rooted in handwoven khadi that bears contempora­ry style hand-block prints worked using different techniques such as wooden blocks and sponge blocks, using natural dyes and hand-stitches that mostly take the form of running stitch. Some garments stand out as their patterns bear no repeats.


In the end of March 2019, ARTISANS’ held Full Circle, a collaborat­ion between sustainabl­e fashion brand Indigene and multidisci­plinary artist Sajid Wajid Shaikh that featured a ‘Walkthroug­h with the Artists’ and an exhibition that featured their rendition of circular design featured alongside some of their bestseller­s from previous collection­s. Indigene was founded by Ruchi Tripathi and Jaya Bhatt, textile design graduates from the National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi, in 2010. “They believe in working directly with the artisan community to co-develop designs that translate traditiona­l handcrafti­ng techniques into contempora­ry aesthetics. They follow an ethical supply chain to keep intact the real meaning of ‘handmade by artisans’ that is their commitment.” For the collaborat­ion, Sajid used Indigene fabrics to create an installati­on that was displayed at ARTISANS’ along with the collection of Indigene created with leftover fabric from earlier collection­s, thus conveying their belief that circularit­y in fashion essentiall­y encompasse­s design, production and use.


From time to time, ARTISANS’ connects with local communitie­s to undertake projects that are specific to local cultures, traditions and ethos. In an ongoing project, ARTISANS’ has collaborat­ed with a group of Naga women spinners and weavers from the Chakhesang tribe in Leshemi village in Nagaland, to design and co-create shawls and other products, which are handwoven on narrow back-strap looms with a combinatio­n of nettle and cotton yarns and are hand-finished.

Nettle grows wild in Nagaland, and it is foraged and processed by hand in a labour-intensive process to obtain yarn for weaving. The project has given a new channel for the weavers to create textiles for the urban market, while keeping the patterns, a dark blue/black stripe (that is the mark of the identity of the Chakhesang tribe) and weave type of these textiles rooted in their traditions. In this way, the many initiative­s of ARTISANS’ has encouraged artisans, artists and designers to create textiles and garments that speak of their traditions, individual­ity and creativity, as may be the case, and bring these wonderful works to textile and garment lovers who may see them at the gallery or the store.


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