Mar 5, 2019
By Siddhi Jain, Frankfurt, Feb 12 (IANS), In the heart of Germany’s business capital, four Indians are showcasing a facet of the country’s soft power: handicrafts. With India the partner country of one of the world’s biggest consumer goods trade fairs, its pavilions are serving as a window to its diverse cultures and deft craftspeople.

At Ambiente 2019, that brings together global manufacturers, traders and buyers of innovatively designed products, designers Sunil Sethi, Sandeep Sangaru, and Ayush Kasliwal - who presented India’s campaign Hand Make in India here - have created an India experience at the event, where over 515 Indian exhibitors are showcasing products in the Living, Giving and Dining categories.

The Frankfurt exhibition grounds saw, for the first time, four Indian award-winning craftspeople giving demos of the crafts they championed over decades.

Tapas Kumar Jana, a recipient of 2016 National Award, demonstrated the centuries-old Masland mat weaving. He painstakingly wove away on these grass-based ‘chatais’, as global visitors stopped in awe and often video-recorded the elaborate procedure.

“The grass we use grows in West Bengal. We make thin strips of it with our teeth, and then weave these manually using our instruments. One simple mat can take several weeks, with the time going up as designs get complicated,” Jana told IANS, adding that these ‘chatais’ were gifted during weddings as a norm.

Displaying woven grass mats as soft and malleable as pashmina fabric, Jana said the craft is changing as per the modern consumer demands.

Not just gifted mats, the finished Masland sheets can now be used to create folders, bags, wall hangings and table decor products -- customised versions of a traditional craft to suit modern needs.

The contemporary use of Jana’s mats draws from India’s larger showcase at the trade fair. Handmade, which is touted as India’s strength, is often thought of as products incapable of competing with the industrially produced modern consumer goods.

Is modernising Indian handicrafts the way forward? Sunil Sethi says yes.

Speaking to IANS on the intricacies of Indian design, he emphasised that the world needs to wake up to its strengths, and platforms like Ambiente provide a visibility like no other.

“Indian design doesn’t lack the talent, but the exposure. If we are competing in a global market, designers from the country must come and see what the world has to offer. It is an eye-opener,” Sethi said, during a walkthrough of the pavilion designed by him.

Displaying modular furniture done in the traditional Ikat style, a sofa with wood blocks as the upholstery, and a beautiful and minimalist peacock glass installation, Sethi said the homes, globally, are changing and modern versions of handicrafts become a way of expanding markets and also retaining the future generations in the trade.

Inder Singh Kudrat, a veteran Rajasthani craftsperson, who was awarded the top artisan honour of Shilp Guru, stressed the importance of global visibility to “keep children’s dwindling interests in crafts alive”.

Also exhibiting are Amrit Lal Sirohiya, a gemstone carver from Rajasthan and Naseer Ahmad Mir, a Kani shawl maker from Jammu and Kashmir.

All the four handicrafts are Geographical Indication (GI) listed, which identifies each product with its place of origin to promote regional crafts.

Listing sustainability, high-end material, and handmade, healthy products as future design trends, as compared to luxury and branding, the Fair’s vice president Nicolette Naumann iterated her belief in Indian products, in a conversation with IANS.

The Fair, which concludes Tuesday, has gone a long way in cementing India’s strengths as a mass manufacturer of sustainable, locally-grounded handicrafts, which suit modern living traditions and are here to stay.

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