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Ikkis: Infusing traditional objects with a sense of whimsy

With her brand’s new collections, designer Gunjan Gupta continues her collaboration with craftspersons to turn everyday Indian objects into cool functional objects of art

From the 'One by Two' collection
From the 'One by Two' collection

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Delhi-based designer Gunjan Gupta has always brought in a sense of whimsy to her products. The latest limited-edition collection, ‘Kangan’, from her brand, Ikkis, is inspired by the gold bangles worn by women. “Scaled up, it is reinterpreted into a magnificent decorative bowl, elevating the contents and space it inhabits,” she explains.

When she set up Wrap, a luxury and lifestyle brand, to produce India-centric design, she came up with the Bartanwallah, a chair with a sculptural pile of brass vessels hand-beaten by a thateran (hand-hammered brass) craftsman .

Ikkis, a functional and more accessible design brand introduced at Maison et Objet, a major French fair for interior design, in 2019, took this ethos forward, reinterpreting everyday Indian objects such as the lota, kulhar and cutting chai glass and as cool, functional objects of art. It is this reinterpretation of indigenous objects in collaboration with craftspersons that makes this brand stand out.

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For the festive season, Gupta has also launched, apart from ‘Kangan’, a series ‘One By Two’ or ‘Ek Ka Do’, with nine different styles across three-to-four colour base meant to be layered and used in an array of combinations. The designer has played with geometric patterns such as hexagons, squares and diamonds. So there is a Sitara platter, in which circular patterns morph into petals and crescents, creating cocktail trays and other objects for a sit-down dinner. Playing on the idea of abundance, the “Lego-like playset” can create endless patterns for entertaining, no matter which cuisine you decide to present.

Craft has always been at the heart of what Ikkis offers and Gupta’s engagement with craftspersons has only increased over the years. “Craft in India has been deeply entwined into the lives of people for centuries as objects created for daily rituals, adornment and entertainment. However, in the wake of India’s rapid modernisation, many of these age-old traditions find themselves at the cusp of extinction,” she adds.

The 'Kangan' collection
The 'Kangan' collection

National awardee and master craftsperson Prithviraj Singh Deo has brought his special touch to the Kangan collection. This is part of the brand’s initiative to showcase artisans who are attempting contemporary manifestations of traditional skills. Singh Deo owns a studio in Odisha’s Kalahandi district, where he trains a new generation of potters. His years of experience drive home the belief that traditional techniques need to be combined with modern design to sustain the craft.

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“The goal for Ikkis Ltd is to recognise the contemporary engagement of Indian master craftspersons as equal forces in the creative process,” notes Gupta. “The artworks need to be viewed in the context of the craftspersons and their history, wherein the life experiences, their education and process, add to the long-term value of the artwork.”

She feels the craftspersons’ quest for inventiveness is captured in limited-edition objects, which create a wonderland of iconic Indian shapes and materials that have been bent out of their conventional form, context and size. “All the craft legacies are highlighted on our website and the artworks are available in numbered and signed editions of 21,” adds Gupta. The objects are the outcome of craftspersons’ intuition and astute observation of everyday life. The titles of the series, Shatranj, Kangan and Chuha, transform the local sensibilities into “sculptural expressions that have been intrinsic to life since ancient times”.

Over the years, Gupta’s visual vocabulary has evolved. At the start of her career, she would present Indian forms as furniture with an unconventional material palette and production technique. Products such as the Bori Sofa, Matka stone tables or the Bicycle Wallah Thrones made their way into the world of collectible design. “Craft was considered pejorative in India too, led by foreign trends and imports. It was imperative to reframe the dialogue around the ‘Made in India’ brand internationally, with focus on the originality of design language and the quality of heritage-based crafts in order to make it attractive to both Indians and design lovers all over the world,” she says.

Gupta’s goal has always been to make design democratic. For future collaborations, too, she continues to journey across states and materials, in pursuit of fresh artistic endeavours by craftspersons.

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