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Culture: the Phoenix

Written By : Bhoomika Bhagwat

Culture is an ever-glowing fire, kindling all our lives. After all, what are we, as a country, without our culture? The flames of our traditions have sparked their way into diverse art forms that enrich our experiences. Yet, over the years, these flames have dwindled. We rarely see the artistic variety that once used to rule our communities. Though many factors are to blame, we can largely attribute the dying of Indian art forms to Western hegemony.

From carefully stitched puppets to rich cave paintings to gorgeous temples, India’s art was once a grandeur unparalleled. Innovation took the artistic reigns, keeping us on par with the west. Yet, globalisation and western influences soon pervaded us, pushing our art behind and keeping business at the forefront. This onslaught of industrialisation is one of the major reasons behind the Indian art forms dying out. Mass manufacturing, in fact, has decimated most jobs for karigars, who are now shifting industries and looking for jobs elsewhere.


    WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

  • Artisans who once worked on beautiful Rogan paintings (fabric paintings) have now shifted towards mass-produced textile industries. What was once a beautiful tapestry of vibrant colours mixed with castor oil, has now become a rarity. Mass producing textiles is cheaper than painting with thick paints and castor seed oil.
  • Alongside dying arts, workers are also being displaced due to poor working conditions. Goldsmiths and jewellers in Zaveri Bazaar, Mumbai, were shifted to industrial zones by the government after an accidental workshop explosion. Many were forced to leave their traditional artwork behind in exchange for government jobs in the city. Traditional art does not have any labour laws to its name like a small-scale industry does. This makes it difficult to govern and regulate laws favouring these karigars. Because of this, one of Mumbai’s oldest jewellery producing lines dissembled into chaos.
  • With the arrival of television and radio, string puppets as well as puppeteering shows too fell out of fashion. They have now declined and fallen into the hands of a few individuals and institutions dedicated to their preservation. The puppeteers have moved on as well, shifting to textile industries or weaving industries to make mass produced clothes

These artisans, once working in royal palaces and illustrating the most decorated artworks are now reduced to searching for other opportunities among mass produced furniture and clothing industries.

However, there is still hope; many independent artists as well as major furniture and architecture companies are working towards bringing a unique twist to our globalised art. One such company is Khenshu.

Khenshu is a design house, working on the fusion of various art forms between the 18th and 19th century. They use a unique technique of sheeting silver on aged teak to create most of their pieces. Crafted in intricate combinations of both the antique and the modern, Khenshu’s silver sheeting can find its roots in 4th century Egypt. This was an era where most artisans attempted to use silver minimally, as its price was higher than gold and copper. The art of sheeting therefore came about to minimize the use of silver. This can be seen from artefacts like the thin bracelets of 4th Dynasty Queen Hetephere I, who had been buried with an abundance of gold but only slim silver bracelets. Silver sheeting to polish mirror surfaces also became a common practice at the time. As the years went by, silver became more common and went down in value compared to gold. Still, the art of sheeting silver came a long way in providing a new touch to furniture.

These innovations will prove to be useful, reviving the old while incorporating the new. Khenshu’s futuristic homes will not only be convenient but also provide a sense of luxury through antiquity.


    Why is it important to preserve Indian art forms?

  • As of 2018, India’s rural unemployment stood at 5.3% and urban unemployment rates came up to 7.8%. Reviving our art forms by using the unemployed labour force will both reduce unemployment while also promoting Indian arts and handicrafts. A joint study by KPMG and National Skill Development Corporation has opined that the traditional jewellery industry could create “3.59 million jobs by 2022, in addition to the 2.5-3 million existing workers in the industry” (Huffington Post, India).
  • Indian art preserves our culture. Our country has 29 different states with a variety of cultures. It is important to bring back the relevance of each and every one of them.

Culture is like a phoenix – no matter what attempts to push it down, human nature will always find a way to bring it back up. Attempts like these only pave way for the new and exciting future of architecture, where Indian culture will be at the forefront, hand-in-hand with Indian business. This kind of revolution might just be what sparks our cultural flame again.