Pots of good karma when India comes to town

Our preconceptions of goods from India are about to undergo a radical change, writes Gina Cowen, as an exhibition of exquisite crafts arrives in this country
Click to follow
The Independent Online
"Hand-made in India" - that may sound all too familiar, the subtext being that the item is in fact mass produced, and is on special offer somewhere off Brick Lane. But be prepared to think again. An exhibition opening on Thursday at the Crafts Council Gallery in London is set to challenge assumptions of Indian craftsmanship. Here you'll see a wide display of contemporary crafts, including embroidered, woven and printed textiles, and objects thrown, carved and beaten in terracotta, wood, stone and metal - even artefacts reincarnated from rubbish.

"We tend to think of Indian crafts either as intricate wonders from, say, the Mughal period, reposing in the solemn galleries of the V&A, or as bright, mirrored trinkets on market stalls - and they currently have a reputation for poor quality," says Louise Taylor, head of exhibitions at the Crafts Council, and one of the curators of this particular show. "This show opens our eyes to a vibrant culture of craft that is modern, sophisticated and relevant." None of the works is likely to have been seen in a shop or market in this country, and they are vastly different from the stuff that fills so many home decoration catalogues and style- store shelves - created in Croydon, beaten out in Bangalore.

Hand-made in India will show work by Indians, significantly for an Indian market: temple lamps cast in brass; an urli (a ritual vessel in bell metal, from Kerala); a grass chair from Orissa (using design and technology from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur); double ikat weavings from Andhra Pradesh; ajrakh printing and ari embroidery from Kutch, Gujarat; ironwork figures; bamboo mattresses; terracotta cooking-pots; sikki baskets; even stencils for temple floor decoration, from Mathura - Krishna's birthplace, in Uttar Pradesh.

The quality of craftsmanship is superb - particularly notable in Shaan Zaveri's granite plates inspired by traditional thalis (large tray plates) with fused granite of different colours; in Abshar Hussain's magnificent wooden bowl with a carved rim ( pictured); and, more humorously, in the recycled creations of Vinod Kumar Sharma. Locally, Sharma is perhaps best known for making a man's suit from recycled newspaper. For this exhibition he has created multicoloured mats from sweet wrappings, and lamps, from perforated tins, that are reminiscent of highly carved traditional Indian screens.

The Indian flair for recyling is almost certainly born from a mixture of stark necessity and a karmic acceptance that all comes round in the end: birth, death, rebirth - Coca-Cola tin, rubbish dump, chandelier. Two years ago the Crafts Council staged a highly successful exhibition, Recycled, which displayed such items as a chandelier featuring a bicycle wheel and hanging bottles by Sophie Chandler, and chest of drawers made out of used sardine cans, by Michael Marriott.

Marriott, who is well known among the style set (Elle Deco, Blueprint, 100% Design, Milan Furniture Fair) is one of the designers (along with Katherine Skellon) of Hand-made in India. He follows the dictum that "good design is all about cunning use of resources, whatever they are". In designing the exhibition, the cunning would appear to have been in making a space that reveals the exhibits not only as works of art but also as objects of everyday use. The design had to be highly flexible, since this is a touring show, with emphasis on the fact that these are items made for sale, and to be used. "Rather than offering a set route round a gallery, this will be something you can wander through on a number of different routes," says Marriott.

Be prepared for a mix of Southall market and South Kensington museum. There are more than 300 works on display, and the price range is wide - from pounds 10 to pounds 1,000. In an inverted form of hire purchase, you can pay now and pick up your item at the end of the exhibition, which will tour the country over the next 18 months.

`Hand-made in India' opens on 9 April and runs to 28 June at the Crafts Council Gallery, 44a Pentonville Road, London N1 (0171-278 7700); from 11 July to 8 August at the Angel Row Gallery in Nottingham (0115 947 6334); and from 5 September to 31 October in Leicester at the City Gallery (0116 254 0595) and Leicester Museum (0116 255 4100). For further venues, call the Crafts Council (0171-278 7700).