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February 21, 2017

Rooshad Shroff on Making Craft Cool Again

Text by Wyanet Vaz. Images by Neville Sukhaina

With his exhibition titled 15,556, the firebrand architect and product innovator is out to challenge contemporary design  

Human connection is the buzzword of our time. People want to know that the products they buy are made by a real person, that they represent some form of history and tell a story. Rooshad Shroff’s recent exhibition titled 15,556 is a narrative of the number of man-hours that have been put into creating everyday items such as chairs, tables, benches and lighting. Giving it an extraordinary treatment, the line of handmade furniture includes embroidery on wood, marble carving, and colour sanding.

Is the Indian market ready to see furniture as a form of art? Shroff is as eager to find out. In the interim, we discuss the rich heritage of craft in the country and his radical ideas on design.

Man vs machine
“I worked a lot with technology and digital fabrication. But when I started being a little more analytical, I realised that it lacked authorship in two aspects. Where things are actually getting made because, with digital fabrication techniques and laser, you can produce them anywhere. It also dilutes that sense of belonging, since we are unaware of the root of each product.”

India cool
“When I moved back to India, furniture became almost as a research tool. I started working with embroidery and devised the concept of embroidery on wood, for which I now have a global patent. That’s when the aspect of craft came in. No other place in the world has the luxury of this kind of workmanship…combined with talent and expertise. Also, craft does not necessarily have to be very ethnic or souvenir-like. It needs to evolve with time. This is something that I wanted to bring about within my own work.”

Embroidered wood 
“The best embroidery in India is concentrated in Mumbai. Luckily, it is a craft that is still relevant in terms of the number of artisans, because it is what sustains the fashion industry. I have always shied away from the idea of any kind of ornamentation, especially embroidery and now I look back and think that it was just me being naive. A very close friend of mine who does this kind of work for luxury brands offered his studio and artisans. So that’s when I actually began experimenting until I came up with the simple idea of drilling holes in the wood and just embroidering it.”

Breaking the mould
“Marble carving is something that has been done for centuries in India. My idea was to create marble bulbs. They had to be strong and monolithic yet fragile, which was technically challenging. We broke almost 40 bulbs before we actually got the first one correct. So we have a set that is completely hollowed out from one singular block, and they have these different carvings on them. This really pushed the limits of what the artisans can do. And that is the direction where I want to take furniture design.”

15556
“This show is a compilation of the research behind three different techniques that I have worked with over the past five years. Some of the furniture pieces have generated excitement in the media but they’ve always been in the prototype stage and remained as pieces in my house. They’ve never really been retailed anywhere. This show is a platform where people can finally touch, feel, see the product.”

Now showing 
“There are a few pieces which are limited edition, and there are some which are part of the permanent collection. They would be retailed at Pundole Art Gallery. It was quite important for me to do it through a gallery rather than a retail space. At the end of the day, they are handmade and are going to take time to make, and I have consciously tried to stay away from mass production.”

Biggest takeaway
“In this rapid world of fast production, we want everything to be done at an extraordinary pace…be it art, fashion or consumer goods. I really want to highlight the essence of slow production. The title 15,556 denotes the man-hours that have gone into the making of these pieces. Everything doesn’t have to be done within a day.”

15,556 is on display at Bikaner House, New Delhi until March 3, 2017. 

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