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Indigenous Techniques in Modern India: Our Top Designers

Indigenous Techniques in Modern India: Our Top Designers
Bidriware Ripple vase. Courtesy of Saif Faisal.

We’ve selected three of India’s top designers to demonstrate how their work connects with the country’s past.

India, having compiled numerous historical cultures, did not use furniture before the arrival of European powers in 1498. Previously, people would eat seated on a floor cushion and sleep on the floor. Low stools and bolsters would be used for assistance rather than as pieces of decoration. The few craftsmen dedicated to furniture making only produced pieces for ceremonial purposes like royal thrones and palace doors and pillars. This tradition involved intricately carved items considered to be art, and had its peak during the 14th century, with the Vijayanagar Empire in Southern India.

When the Europeans arrived, the settlers commissioned local Indian carpenters to produce Western-style furniture pieces using local materials. This allowed Indian carpenters to integrate their skills in decorative woodcarving and inlays into European-style chairs, tables, and cabinets. Hardwoods like rosewood, teak, acacia, ebony, and Sheesham were frequently used as they were abundant in the country. The regions of Rajasthan and Gujarat became known for their colorful paintings on furniture. In the North, however, materials such as ivory and bones were also used, along with wood.

Simple, utilitarian items of furniture became more commonplace by the early 20th century. Today, craftsmanship in India blends well with contemporary aesthetics and notions of sustainability as the subcontinent is particularly susceptible to extreme climatic events such as heatwaves and floods.

700-year-old Craft Bidriware with Saif Faisal

Bangalore-based designer Saif Faisal acquired knowledge in architecture, mechanical engineering, and woodworking before opening FAISAL STUDIO. His experience in designing and participating in Formula SAE-Racing has allowed him to cultivate an essentialism philosophy in his work. Beyond the typical design industry comprising furniture and lighting, among other products, he’s ventured into IOT solutions, urban farming products such as aquaponics, automotive racing design, and more.

Ripple vase. Courtesy of Saif Faisal.
AHEC night stand. Courtesy of Saif Faisal.

His interest in know-how guided him toward the 700-year-old intricate craft known as Bidriware, which has its roots in Persian, Turkish, and Arabic metal arts. He implemented this technique in the KATHA RIPPLE vase he launched in 2022. Bidriware consists of inlay work done in silver, gold, or copper, followed by an oxidizing process that uses a unique and rare mud found only in the unlit areas of the Bidar Fort, in Bidar, India. The mud causes a deep, black oxidation to the alloy and leaves the inlaid metals unaffected. Bidriware pieces can be found in the collections of major museums, but the finite availability of the mud brings the fear that the art might be dying out. In the Bidriware vase specifically, the pattern emulates ripples on water, as if their movement is “frozen” at a certain point in time. Also, the combination of silver and copper inlay on the black oxidized Bidriware alloy creates a striking effect, offering new experiences when viewed from different perspectives.

The AHEC nightstand, on the other hand, is part of a collaboration between Saif and AHEC America which explores the beauty of frugality and essential design. Launched in 2022, the item has an integrated dimmer equipped with an LED light which eliminates the need for a bedside lamp. The AHEC nightstand is made with American oak and treated with natural teak oil.

Textiles with Chinar Farooqui: The Bhujodi and Bandhani Techniques and Kala Cotton

Designer Chinar Farooqui grew up in the state of Rajasthan and became familiar with local crafts when visiting various villages in different parts of India with her mother as a child. In 2019, she founded the brand Injiri under which she dedicates her time to product creation while working with traditional craftspeople in India. Her work comprises creating textiles for the home and clothes for women. She incorporates a range of different designs and colors from traditional motifs to contemporary patterns inspired by the textiles and clothing of the Rebari and Ahir communities in the Indian Western state of Gujarat. 

Each product is handwoven using either the extra weft technique of Bhujodi—a small town that is one of the major textile and craft hubs of the Gujarat region—or the traditional knotting technique of Bandhani. Regarding materials, Chinar established a partnership with a group of weavers from Kachchh, who are producing kala cotton—a pesticide- and fertilizer-free, organic, short-staple species indigenous to Kachchh that has been grown there since before hybridization became common. The crops are pest and disease-proof and do not require much added water, due to adequate rainfall.

Originally launched in 2018 and 2016 respectively, the sub-collections Indigo and Ahir were expanded in 2023. These collections are made with kala cotton.

Ahir collection. Courtesy of Chinar Farooqui.
Ahir collection. Courtesy of Chinar Farooqui.

Lekha Washington Combines Tradition, Design, and Art

Based in the outskirts of Mumbai, actress, poet, sculptor, and product designer Lekha Washington has always thought of herself as “the odd one out”. At eighteen years old, she gave her first solo art show, which was soon followed by her debut lead theater performance. Since obtaining a degree in product design and film direction, Lekha has been mastering both her passions: creating pieces of art and design in parallel to her busy acting schedule.

The Lekha Washington Studio is focused on supporting sustainable innovation and original design. Lekha drives the studio toward becoming an oasis for creative thinkers, a place from which original, functional art can be brought to the global market. Her signature piece, the Dot chair forms part of the Sink collection and is a visual mirage channeling several references from the traditional Indian bindi to the circular shape of the sun. The item is made of stainless steel and fabric, is highly customizable, and can be easily hung on the wall. In 2023, she launched a limited edition of the Dot chair incorporating her famous Moon Art cover.

She also recently released the Kiku chandelier. Made to order, the stainless-steel piece takes form as a mighty, giant, atomic-like structure, offering an infinite number of illumination possibilities depending on how its many “branches” are arranged.

Dot chair. Courtesy of Lekha Washington.
Kiku chandelier. Courtesy of Lekha Washington.
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