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.
ARTISANS’ COMPRISES AN ATMOSPHERIC GALLERY AND A LOVELY STORE WHICH LAUNCHES ARTISANS AND DESIGNERS WHO WORK WITH HANDMADE CRAFTS, TEXTILES AND GARMENTS.
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.
ETHOS OF ARTISANS’
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.
FOCUSED 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.
THE STITCHING PROJECT: ROOTED IN ETHICAL FASHION
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.
INDIGENE: AN ODE TO CIRCULARITY AND SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTION
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.
NETTLE TEXTILES FROM NAGALAND: A SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
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.
ARTISANS’ HAS ENCOURAGED ARTISANS, ARTISTS AND DESIGNERS TO CREATE TEXTILES AND GARMENTS THAT SPEAK OF THEIR TRADITIONS, INDIVIDUALITY AND CREATIVITY.