Our quest of the cosmic world, and what lies in the great unknown of the universe have been long and persistent. And for interior designer-architect Ashiesh Shah, it is the gateway to explorations of spirituality, mythology as well as architecture. So, he looked up for inspiration and drew the night sky in colours of striking indigo and blue.
These drawings have become part of a collection of hand-knotted carpets, Brahmaand,meaning the “universe”, made in collaboration with Jaipur Rugs and its artisans in Rajasthan. The collection of four rugs, Nakshatra, Manthan, Dwaar and Chanda, draw inspiration from India’s ancient geometry, the cosmos and the architecture of the Jantar Mantar. They were presented at the recently concluded Salone del Mobile furniture fair in Milan.
Also part of the collection are Manchaha Brahmaand pieces, designed and made by Jaipur Rugs’ artisans, featuring design translations of what the universe means to them,with motifs of the sun, moon, stars and the planets.
In an interview with Lounge, the director of Jaipur Rugs, Yogesh Chaudhary, talks about the design inspiration of the collection, why getting young people to weave rugs is a challenge, and how the world perceives Indian handmade products. Edited excerpts:
Tell us about the collection.
We had been talking to Ashiesh for almost two years, debating on ideas and different forms and shapes. And when he sketched these out, he called me saying, “I know exactly what we're doing”. The paintings, and eventually, the rugs, are inspired by cosmic energy, which is why we thought we'd call it “Brahmaand”. When you look at the collection, it's kind of speaking out that word already.
Ashiesh is a big believer in cosmic energy, which can be seen in his designs, like the lingamchairs and lights. So we were looking for something along those lines, because as soon as you talk about Shiva as the creator, it is about the universe, it is about life. We were discussing how we live on Earth, but the most important energy that we get doesn’t come from our planet; the sun is the source of that energy. Also, there's so much happening around the universe that we don't know. I think this is a reflection of that, in a way, and the rugs depict different parts of that narrative.
The rugs are in rich indigo hues. Why the decision to stick to one colour for the pieces?
Ashiesh did almost all the drawings in blue. The colour reflects the philosophy that Ashiesh and I have been trying to talk about in the collection, that's why we picked Indigo. When you look at the rugs, nobody has to describe too much about what's going on. It tells a story automatically.
How did the Manchaha Brahmaand pieces come about?
Ashiesh visited Jaipur and looked at some of the earlier Manchaha rugs and decided to work with our artisans. So he sat down with the weavers to discuss the collection's inspiration; he asked them to think of the sky when making these carpets, and design what they see, what it reminds them of, and their memories related to it. He also shared reference images and we gave them a limited colour palette of navies, blues, and some silver, and then the weavers were free to create whatever they wanted to.
Jaipur Rugs has also been working with Rajasthan's jail inmates. One of the pieces in Brahmaand is by an inmate. What is your objective with this ongoing collaboration with them?
The project started because we just wanted to bring a little bit of happiness to the jail. We didn't really know what was going to come out of it. But as we started training them, we began to see amazing results. Even with somebody who has zero creative background, what they're able to weave is simply incredible. Every piece has some story to tell through the design language they build. Also, the jail gets a percentage of the money that is earned by the inmates, which helps them do better maintenance, infrastructure, etc. It's also great to have various design languages. There's also a history of carpets being made in the jails, so in a way, it's a revival of what was happening many years ago.
Jaipur Rugs has a vast network of artisans spread across Rajasthan and Gujarat. With a scale as big as that, how do you ensure the welfare of the artisans?
When the market is good, then there is usually not too much of a problem. We have enough orders for the weavers and everybody in the supply chain for the next six months. The challenge comes when the times are not great. And obviously, because of being handmade, there is only a limited amount that we can grow. Our increase and decrease in production is not very quick. So it's a very fine line that we have to walk. But the core weavers and villages we operate in, we always ensure there is work.
Do you see an increased appreciation and greater demand for Indian designs and handmade craft?
Yes, definitely. But also, as a country, and this includes us, I don’t think we have done a great job of presenting ourselves to the world. For instance, an Italian company will show our rugs, and tell the story way better than I could. That's where I think we've not really won the battle. Also, luxury is more about the emotion and less about the price. As we grow, we have to keep learning how to impact that emotion, or talk to the audience at an emotional level, and not at the price, functional or the feature level. And I feel there's a humongous opportunity for Indian brands to be doing that, because there's definitely an increase of acceptance towards handmade things. But the practice of hand-making is reducing greatly in the world; there are very few countries like India who are actually poised to take advantage of the situation.
Do you see a struggle in bringing young people on board as artisans?
Yes. As the country evolves and grows, it'll continue to be a challenge. While weaving is therapeutic for some people, it’s boring for many. We’ve noticed that people in the villages want more active jobs. But what we've also realised is that there are certain diasporas of people with whom our work fits in really well, like farmers. In India, our crops are seasonal, so they don’t need to be on the field every day; they spend about 80-90 days of the year on the field, and for the remaining 270 days, weaving becomes the main source of income. Secondly, we're seeing a lot of women between ages 25 and 28 come in who have just gotten married, have a small kid and are not able to go out anywhere, and in a lot of villages we operate, there’s really no opportunity to do anything from home either. Moreover, the more remote the village, the more difficult it is for the people there to find jobs. So it's mostly women weavers that we're focusing on. With initiatives like Manchaha, our vision is also to see how we can double or triple the income of the weavers from where it is currently so that people are interested simply because it pays well.