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In conversation with designer Anshu Arora Sen

We understand that you employ craft techniques and processes in your collections. Which craft techniques have you worked with?
I work with a variety of printing and embroideries - block, kantha, kutch embroidery etc. I employ women who have migrated to the city from smaller towns and rural areas. They all have some basic skills with the needle and at my studio they develop these skills to do intricate needlework using beads and creating patchwork patterns.

You are a NIFT graduate. Were handlooms and traditional textiles included in your formal education at NIFT?
I was in NIFT from 1994-97. In our first year we have to undertake the documentation of a craft. I researched the textiles in North Bengal, specifically the Tibetan community settled there. Though I have kept no direct links with them one does imbibe the design and colour sensibilities. I also work with Sasha in Kolkata and have had an association with Dastkar though I do not have a formal interaction with the crafts. I have also begun work with Karam Marg and that might develop.

Do you feel that an awareness of traditional hand skills is important for today's designers? Why?
Any designer in any country must be aware of their specific cultural context, at the very least. If they don't then they are missing a vocabulary, a language.

Do you actually employ craftspeople or do you work through commissions?
I employ ten women at the moment. Most of my work is done inhouse. We have flexible working hours, they can take work home if they choose or if the need arises. I do not create in bulk. The work is about accents, details. For instance, in a skirt we might add details just at the end.

Do you give them the designs or do you work with the existing traditional repertoire and then modify them within your creations?
Though I give them a pattern, design is a symbiotic process where ideas grow while in process. They have an interesting colour sensibility. In the west colour is viewed mathematically, combinations strictly adhere to the codified colour palette. In India colour is more playful, more adventurous.

While incorporating craft skills in your design, do you seek to retain the traditional character of the craft? And how much scope is there to incorporate the spontaneity/ creative instinct of the artisan, even as (s)he molds the skill as per your requirements.
Some of the processes are instantly identifiable like embroideries of Kutch or Bengal. But I also innovate. Though I hand print I make my own blocks which have a geometric pattern. So I follow the technique not the design directory.

What is your experience with craftpersons? Do they deliver on time? Are they open to ideas and suggestions?
The first point to remember is that you cannot hurry the craftsperson. They have their own pace at which they work and making it overtly professional would kill their work ethos. Yet on the other hand you have to set deadlines. This interaction requires sensitivity.

Is the debate surrounding the ethics of isolating a living cultural tradition and using it as mere embellishment a valid one?
It is a valid one. But it is tricky. The dichotomy lies between economics and purity. I have no answers.

What are your thoughts on the future of crafts in India?
There are two kinds or categories of crafts. One is the highly specialized, very expensive which most people are unable to work with as they are hard to commercialise and sell cheaply. They need patrons. The other are easier to incorporate and sustain.



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