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Are we moving away from our heritage?

art-and-culture Updated: Oct 12, 2010 19:24 IST

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Indian design - be it in films, furniture or accessories - may be high on style, but it is drifting away from its rich heritage in the zeal to imitate global trends, says

Design Indaba

, the design bible that has launched a collector's issue on India.

The magazine, published by Interactive Africa from South Africa, was launched in 2001.

"Designers in India should hunt for new aesthetic idioms from within the country's rich heritage. After independence, we lost the old aesthetic awareness because of lack of government support," Ravi Naidoo, founder and managing editor of Interactive Africa, told



"Design talent abounds in India but lack of design education in the country puts them at a disadvantage when compared to the rest of the world. We do not have art schools in the country which have global standards."

Interactive Africa brought out the special issue last week to mark the 150th anniversary of the Indian community in South Africa. Naidoo says, "The magazine was a look at India through the eyes of some of the best people in creative space."

The volume comments on the country's design movement from the perspective of the nation's 5,000-year-old history and the events that propelled its destiny to establish "the power of being an Indian in the African diasporic mosaic".

The issue has been edited by the Delhi unit of the global advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy. New Delhi-based interior designer Gunjan Gupta says "the made-in-India" element has gone from handcrafted goods and ethnic products.

In her article on


in Design Indaba, Gupta makes a strong pitch for indigenisation of Indian accessory design.

"Almost every piece of contemporary furniture in India's burgeoning luxury market is either a Western import or a locally-manufactured imitation of the same," she said.

"While the unique handcrafted furniture is in demand in the West, it is redundant within India - a country on the verge of modernisation and seduced by Western imagination and machined production," she says.

Gupta attributes the trend to a shift in power equations between the two cultures in the 19th century. Indian ethnic objects commissioned by the ruling Europeans in the 17th and the 18th century led to the creation of an impressive range of breathtaking cross cultural luxury craft.

But they were branded "stylishly confused" by the new generation of Europeans in the 19th century. The Indian elite rejected them too in favour of goods from Europe, representative of status and authority, she said.

The trend has continued well into the 21st century. The phenomenon has crept into mainstream Indian cinema - the country's biggest soft power block - as well.

"Indian films have come a long way from the 1950s Bollywood to become bigger, of course, better and more Western and global in sensibilities primarily because of the opening up of the economy," Aseem Chhabra, a New York-based writer, analyses in his article



The Hindi language cinema from Mumbai during the 1950s rejected the West in both content and aesthetics to probe the issues the young nation was grappling with.

In the 1990s, with the freeing of the economy, Mumbai's inward-looking film industry jumped into the global bandwagon and decided to reap the bounty of the non-resident Indian (NRI) markets abroad, Chhabra said.

"Sixty-three years after independence, India has evolved and changed substantially - from Bombay cinema to Bollywood - but in the process the new Bollywood films have lost a lot," Chhabra says.

"India is deeper and evolved. Design is much deeper than contemporary Bollywood, Rajasthani colours, calendar art and general kitsch," says V. Sunil, executive creative director of Wieden+Kennedy that edited Design Indaba.