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Interview with Designer Anjali Kalia

Recognizing the role traditional handlooms and designs play in contemporary fashion, we are starting a series of interviews with fashion designers. We ask a set of questions to which the designers send their responses. We will intersperse these with interviews with the crafts persons to get both sides of the process being examined.

Anjali Kalia is a design graduate from National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi and her graduate collection in 1995 was awarded the CMAI (Clothing Manufacturers Association of India) Award for the Most Creative Collection. She has worked with Rohit Bal, one of India's leading fashion designers. Influenced and inspired by a self-motivated research into Indian Aesthetics and Design Philosophy, Anjali's design skills have evolved to reflect India on its path of constant growth and evolution.

She is a trustee of the Pranam Foundation, an organization dedicated to establishing Nature's Law of truth, love and light, for the spiritual realization of the ever evolving Universal Consciousness.

As a designer do you employ craft techniques and processes in your art?
Yes I do, because I feel, especially in our cultural context, craft and design is inter-related and complementary to each other.

Which crafts have you worked with?
Since the last 10 years, ever since I started to contribute to the fashion industry as a professional, I have worked with crafts. These vary from the omnipresent Zardozi, Badla, and Thread work to the more unique embroideries, weaves, natural dying, block printing etc exclusive to our country. I have documented Paithani and Dharmavaram Saris while at NIFT. More recently, I conducted design and technical workshops, in association with DC Handicrafts and Sanskriti Kendra, in Humphai Pottery of Manipur, Bankura Pottery of West Bengal and Chikhs from Delhi. I have also conducted classes in painted and printed textiles of India.

Do you employ craftspersons or do you work through commissions?
I usually work directly with craftsmen, but in some situations agents may be involved. Both arrangements can work to a designers' advantage, depending on the skill level of the people involved.

Do you give them the designs or do you work with the existing traditions and then modify them within your creations?
I have very strong views in this context. Firstly if we are working with a traditional craft, it is important to understand the cultural, social and if I may say so, the spiritual aspects of it. As a designer, I feel it is not my job to abstract, distort a tradition to suit my purpose, leaving the poor craftsperson wondering about the implications of the change. A deviation he neither comprehends nor is capable of sustaining for a long period of time only adds to frustration. A change through design should be well thought of, it should inspire and yet challenges traditional sensibilities. Hence I am a strong advocate of growth in the traditional repertoire and not of mere copying and remobilization of traditional skills. After all we are the same culture that built the Taj, wove exquisite mulmul and painted the finest miniatures! We can innovate without copying... we can create without repetition!!

Hence I try and coax the craftsperson to THINK and then innovate in his traditional sensibility, so that he can learn to sustain his creativity and also provide something new to his market. I start with a general feel of what I have visualized and gently built onto it. Commercial viability, the use of contemporary techniques and materials are important to me. Our culture is of growth 'nitnutanambudmayee' i.e. new, blossoming everyday, just like Nature. This is our essence, and the soul of our crafts. This is what I seek to preserve and enhance.

What is your experience with craftpersons? Do they deliver on time? Are they open to ideas and suggestions?
I have had varied experiences with craftspersons. Some have been an absolute delight to work with while some were a complete nightmare!! But overall I feel that the craftspersons today are aware of their prized position amongst the crafts fraternity, and use this to their advantage. Some are openminded and hardworking, willing and wanting to make it big while the others constantly throw their 'award winner' status to make unreasonable demands! And as for delivering on time, why blame the poor fellows, when the whole country needs to understand time-management! Depending upon their self-confidence, willingness to work hard, ability to translate abstract ideas into concrete forms, the craftspersons can be open to ideas and suggestions. There are those who are clearly in love with their craft and it has become their natural extension. These are the ones who want to innovate and enjoy what they do. The monetary aspects are important but do not weigh heavily in the bargain. The second types are those, for whom the craft has lost its meditative spiritual aspect, it is a mere source of making a living, and every minute counts for them. Innovations for the sake of art are not favoured.

Is the debate surrounding the ethics of isolating a living cultural tradition and using it as mere embellishment a valid one?
Let me state facts. We are a product of a living cultural tradition. Would we remain what we are if we use it for mere embellishment? The harm that this kind of an attitude causes has already happened to us. The mindless western influences incorporated have killed or overshadowed our traditional wisdom. Why were certain colours worn on particular days, why play a specific raga at pre-appointed time of the day, why eat certain foods on certain days and abstain from them altogether sometimes... it took reiki to teach us about our vedic energy principles, whatever goes to the west and is thrown back at us gets our instant approval!!!! The choice is ours. The need of the hour is to understand the true scientific reasoning behind our cultural influences and the carry them forward with grace and dignity. This is the reason that my philosophy group PRANAM is working to reduce the gap between culture and science, knowledge and true wisdom so that the glory of our wonderful sanskriti can be reinstated.

What are your thoughts on the future of crafts in India?
There are some things inherent in our culture - satyam shivam sunderam (Truth, beauty and harmony). Grace is bestowed; it cannot be invented or bought. Grace comes by being truthful. Truth is being one on the three planes of thought, word and deed. If we can preserve these, the essence of our sanskriti, we are sure to not only preserve but lead the world in every aspect. It is the people who make a culture, not vice versa. Craft merely reflects the culture. Our future is in our hands, and fortunately the choice to grow or stagnate, too is ours. Only a mass movement aiming at changing the basic consciousness of every Indian can save us. An effort towards this goal is being spearheaded by a movement called PRANAM and I take this opportunity to appeal to everyone to join in.



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