Great read today in DNA, about two Indian designers who are pushing the envelope on “sustainable” design.
With such diverse inspirations as textile waste and kitchen utensils, designers Sahil Bagga and Sarthak Sengupta’s creations show that ancient craft techniques are not alien to contemporary lifestyle, writes Marisha Karwa in DNA
For most of us, the internet slang ASAP stands for ‘as soon as possible’. Not so for designer duo Sahil Bagga and Sarthak Sengupta, whose assigned meaning for the acronym is ‘as sustainable as possible’. The philosophy forms the genesis of every project the Delhi-based partners of multi-disciplinary studio Sarthak Sahil Design Co undertake.
“We want to define our identity as contemporary Indian designers in the international design scene. We therefore design products that are global in appeal but local in spirit,” says Sengupta. “Our core design philosophy is to capture the human story behind every craft that we reinterpret and re-contextualise for a contemporary audience.”
The 36-year-old alumni of the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) met College of Art graduate Bagga at the Politecnico di Milano, Italy, where they were pursuing a master’s degree. Following the course, they were selected by the furniture-maker, the Poltrona Frau Group, for a project under the mentorship of master designer Guilio Cappelini.
“Working at the design firm Cappelini was a significant milestone in our careers,” observes Bagga. “We were introduced to the state-of-the-art when it came to furniture design and manufacturing. The sheer scale of their operations was intimidating and at the same time, attention to every minute detail was very inspiring.”
The stint with the century-old furniture group and the experience of life in Italy led to the pair’s most significant learning. “The Italians are very proud of their traditional materials and craftsmanship, yet they are the market leaders in the contemporary luxury market,” notes Bagga. “They know how to synergise their craftsmanship with modern technology, keeping abreast with social and market trends. They also respect human labour and understand the importance of innovation even in mass production.”
Milan, Manipur and back again
Since going into business together in 2009, Sengupta and Bagga have “indulged in a wide diversity of projects”, including gift items, product and furniture design, installations and interiors — all inspired by traditional craft techniques. They first reinterpreted Manipur’s longpi pottery for their Magia Nera (black magic) collection, creating table top accessories such as coasters, vases, lamps and more from the black-hued clay using traditional moulds of the artisans. Another collection, called Kerala Sutra, uses the state’s many art forms, including theyyam, kathakali, leather shadow puppetry, mural painting, metal casting, etc., as motifs for lamps and light installations. Yet another lamp collection is inspired by the kamandal — a vessel used by ascetics to carry water in.
The medley of work, says Sengupta, “keeps us happy from a creative sense and allows us to master new skills”. Bagga explains that new collections are either based on briefs by clients or are works of self-indulgence. Bagga describes the latter as a “bottom-up process” for which their travels and exposure to culture are the biggest “inspiration pools”. “We travel extensively, and we can’t help getting inspired by what we see along the way,” says the 37-year-old. “There is so much diversity in our nation, there is no end to rediscovering age-old practices. For example, we chose the crafts and culture of Kerala for our light installation collection for Somany Ceramics earlier this year. And last year, we choose Gujarat as our inspiration state for creating a range of stainless steel furniture for Jindal Steel.”
Sarthak Sahil Design Co’s collections have been exhibited across the world, including at the world’s largest furniture fair, the Salone del Mobile Milan, at London’s Alchemy Festival and most recently, at the International Furniture Fair in Singapore.
The studio’s commitment to traditional arts is evident not only in their collections, but also from their overseas projects. Last year, when the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), London, approached the designers for an installation to mark Diwali and Christmas for the extensive ‘The Fabric of India’ exhibition, they chose to juxtapose the rituals and symbolisms of the two festivals. “We proposed the Kalpataru — the wishing tree. The structure of this installation was handcrafted by silversmiths from north India, adorned by hand-painted murals from Kerala, depicting a foliage of trees and plants, and having ritualistic importance in Indian culture,” points out Sengupta.
Among their many works that have earned them laurels is the Katran collection. Katran, the term for the leftover pieces of colourful cloth from textile and cloth mills, is traditionally spun into ropes that are then used to make khatiyas. In the Katran collection, the ropes are used for chairs, loungers, lampshades, tabletops and more — the vivid colours adding to the quirky and tactile reuse of textile waste. “The Katran collection is true to our hearts as it is a manifestation of all our brand values — ethics, ethnicity, ecology, sustainability and meaningful design,” says Sengupta. Such is the appeal of the Katran chairs that they’ve become a part of the designers’ everyday life. “‘Love chair’ is good for sitting and working in, and our ‘Pelican chair’ is more like a lounger to relax and take a power nap in,” says Bagga.
Favourite architects: Antoni Gaudi, Laurie Baker, Zaha Hadid
Favourite designers: Oki Sato of Japanese design studio Nendo, Fabio Novembre, Jasper Morrison
Favourite design products: Muji stationary and Flos lamp
Pet peeves: Plagiarism, tardiness