Finding a Sustainable Future for Artisans Over Chai and Chat

With the future of artisans uncertain, this year's Nine.Squares – Jaipur Design show is aimed at reflecting on how artisans can be integrated with the design community.

India’s design sector is a hive of creative energy working in a global environment. India’s artisanal sector, on the other hand, sees crafts people working in a challenging environment as modernity asks questions about what their future holds. Both meet next week at the second edition of the Jaipur design show, Nine.Squares.

M.P. Ranjan, formerly of the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, was a great innovator in the Indian design scene and along with his wife, Aditi, spent a lifetime addressing the challenges facing India’s artisans. In addressing how change happens, Ranjan argued that people learn more from a discussion over a cup of chai than in any other way. This argument is reinforced by prominent Indian theatre director and event visualiser, Bansi Kaul. In training Asian Mela organisers in the UK, Kaul argued that most people come to a mela to meet people and chat. When you design a mela, he said, you start by designing places for people to sit and chat, ideally over a cup of chai.

Nine.Squares – Jaipur Design Show

Nine.Squares – Jaipur Design Show. Credit: Alan Tweedie

Through these inspiring prompts, Nine.Squares has been guided into an informal constructive chat. It’s discussion programme allows for a chat anywhere on the site, with two informal chat areas. One is the small ‘Under the Tree’ discussion area where anyone can sit down and explore ideas, exchange information. The other is an area for more organised ‘Chai & Chat’ sessions. Sandeep Sangaru, the British Council’s ‘Young Creative Entrepreneur in Design for Social Impact’, leads one.

That discussion session brings to completion a bamboo workshop project that is currently ongoing at the Indian Institute for Craft and Design (IICD), also in Jaipur. In a unique collaborative first for India, artisans from Agartala in the Northeast have come together with local artisans, architects, designers, carpenters and students to create innovative structures from bamboo. These will form part of the design of the event, including providing a backdrop to the Chai & Chat sessions. Interdisciplinary influences are being brought to this bamboo activity in which students from IICD learn new skills, explore new challenges and prepare themselves with ideas to take into their careers.

Nine squares Jaipur design show

Speakers at a ‘Chai & Chat’ session on Diggi Palace lawn during Edition 1. Credit: Alan Tweedie

This year’s theme is ‘Artisans Re-invented’. Through many aspects of the event, especially the conversation sessions, Nine.Squares is creating opportunities for reflection on how the artisanal community may be more integrated with the design community, to the mutual benefit of both. In a rapidly changing globalised world, artisans face an uncertain future. Nine.Squares is placing itself squarely with them in the challenges they face.

Speaking on September 15, Ritu Bhatnagar, Jaipur architect and one of the creators of the initiative, said, “It is my intrinsic desire to help recognise, appreciate and reinvent the vast and rich art and craft traditions of our country in my work. Designers across India are doing amazing experiments with the Indian visual language. We need to share and learn.”

Three pavilions, including one for start-ups, allow for trade opportunities and networking at the event.

Nine squares Jaipur design show

Music and song outside the Darbar Hall with ongoing carpet making in the background. Credit: Alan Tweedie

Visitors can also take part in a wide range of craft workshops, while those who are early risers can take part in an early morning craft trail through the streets of Jaipur, checking out Jaipur’s hidden crafts workers and their variety of treasures.

Jaipur’s Mitch Crites will inaugurate the event on September 22, which will run for three day until September 24, at the Diggi Palace.

Alan Tweedie of Arts Interactions is a British arts development advisor working in India since 2008.

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