Over the past 40 years of working with art, craft, travelling the world and seeing the aesthetics of India evolve with modernity, I saw the lines between disciplines begin to blur. There was always a fine line between art and craft, and this is getting erased slowly but surely. With the advent of technology, accessibility and ease of communication, artisans are no longer in a sphere of remoteness. They are appreciated and those who are able to use their imagination are seeing greater success.
Today, the drawings of the late Gond artist Jhangar Singh Shyam sell at price similar to that of contemporary artist Arpita Singh’s drawings. Celebrated designer Ashish Shah worked with artisans in Kashmir, Karnataka, Odisha, Manipur etc to produce a range of dramatic works between utilitarian and sculptural using them in his projects. He used the skills of artisans from different areas. Not only that, Experimenter, a gallery known to show edgy artworks, exhibited some of his work and this was an example of the disappearing lines between disciplines.
Six-seven years ago, I exhibited beautiful paintings of architect BV Doshi at the India Art Fair and the event went unnoticed not because of the art or the reputation of the legend but because the viewers could not completely comprehend the concept of creativity coming from those who were not trained fine artists.
Today, architects and designers collaborate with artists and artisans to bring art into their projects with more than just a decorative intent.
One such example is that of Chiu Man Wong, a Singapore-based architect who conceptualised and planned the St Regis Hotel in the Maldives giving architecture the forms inspired by the sea creatures and conceptualising the art working closely with the artists to produce works relating to the five elements that are part of the island culture. Designers too have crossed over and become artists like in the case of two successful creative people, namely Alex Davis and Vikram Goyal.
Artists have always worked with artisans, like bronze casters and printmakers. However, today we see artists working with crafts with great ease and acknowledging and crediting the artisans for the collaborations.
Manjit Bawa and Arpana Caur in India ventured in this direction over two-and-a-half decades back. Today, Princess Pea, known largely for her performance work, has extended her pea-shaped mask to sculptures that she has created with a group of women artists from Etikoppaka in Andhra Pradesh. Recent times have seen many artists now exploring craft techniques in their work.
We have now seen a resurgence and awareness in the appreciation of creativity for ideas – be it the watercolours and photographs of Le Corbusier or the furniture in the Chandigarh style of Pierre Jeanneret. The time has come now, where collectors in India will soon collect craft and design, and treasure them like art the same way the Japanese make national treasures of their teapot makers or the way the Europeans respect cutlery made by Georg Jensen from Copenhagen.
(The writer is a gallerist and curator involved in the contemporary art world and can be reached at [email protected])