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A craftsman, with a twist

art-and-culture Updated: Apr 22, 2012 01:15 IST
Riddhi Doshi
Riddhi Doshi
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Hanging at intervals from a single, gleaming metal rod are three elegant brass-beaten bowls, each shaped like an eye. Called Trinetra, the home-decor piece by Jaipur-based designer Ayush Kasliwal is inspired by Hindu deity Shiva’s third eye of enlightenment. The vessels, despite their unusual shape, can also be used as tealight holders or vases.

But the piece’s greatest USP: The brass-beaten bowls have been created by a dying breed of craftsmen from Jaipur. Trinetra and three other Kasliwal designs are on display at the British Council arts and culture festival, Alchemy, underway in London till today.

The work of this 37-year-old designer is rooted in traditional Indian crafts, taking inspiration from ancient techniques and employing artisans in their production. It is these qualities that secured him a slot at Alchemy, an annual music, dance, literature and design festival organised by London’s Southbank Centre, the UK’s largest arts centre, to explore cultural connections between India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and the UK.

“Exhibiting in London is a great opportunity to give people from around the world, through my products, a glimpse into one of the oldest civilisations in the world,” he says.

Kasliwal majored in furniture design at National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, graduating in 1996, then returned to Jaipur. “Home is where security is,” he says. “I didn’t want to move to a bigger city and get caught in a rat-race seeking that security.”

Work, however, was not easy to find. From 1996 to 2001, Kasliwal served mainly as a construction contractor, helping people build terraces and toilets. His design practice was limited to a few projects that he got from friends and family.

“It was a blessing, actually,” he says. “My construction projects taught me how to build and construct things in reality, how to handle people and money.”

In 2001, Kasliwal married interior-decorator Geetanjali, and the duo began helping people put together the insides of their dream homes. “Whether it was designing a bathroom or just a staircase, we did it all,” says Geetanjali.

In 2006, the couple had finally gathered together enough resources to set up their own design studio, Anantaya (Sanskrit for Eternal), in Jaipur. So far, the couple has worked with 3,000 craftsmen and women, including animal horn and bone workers from the Chambal, durry weavers from Jaipur and Agra, metal wire workers from Ajmer and wood turners from Jodhpur.

In 2007, the Trinetra design won the UNESCO Seal of Excellence certificate, given to products that have a significant impact on the local economy and cultural ethos and encourage craftsmen to use traditional skills and materials. It’s the perfect example of Anantaya’s design philosophy: Don’t fit the shoe to the foot but the foot to the shoe.