To many generations of designers and artisans, Aditi and M.P. Ranjan are the people who dedicated decades of their lives, as educators, guides and life-long friends who changed lives. Aditi is a textile designer who is deeply involved with the Indian crafts world and is probably one of the best teachers one could hope to have. She has worked with textiles all over India. M.P. Ranjan is a design thinker and educationalist who has worked extensively in the crafts sector and is an authority on bamboo. These days he devotes most of his time to academia and is associated with various institutions in India and abroad. Together, they also edited the monumental Handmade in India volumes on Indian arts and crafts.
One gets the sense that priorities/choices made by designers and design graduates, post liberalisation in India, veered more towards ‘working like the west’ and trying to fit in with their aesthetic. The nation has changed a lot in 20 years. What would you say happened to design in that period?
Yes, design education remained focused on creating designers for the job market while the need has always been about the creation of design entrepreneurs across several sectors. Many of our alumni have indeed done just that but the schools neither learn from this experience nor are they interested, it seems. However, there are new initiatives coming up and this may change; but not at the old schools—due to inertia that does not seem to go with time.
In the last decade, Indian crafts have again found a renewed vigour with a variety of exciting design work. Both Indian and Western designers have created commendable energies in their collaborations with Indian crafts. Would you agree?
Yes, more in the West than here in India. New schools such as the Indian Institute of Crafts and Design may help change that. A crafts university of higher education may not be a bad idea at this stage.
NID must be one of the few places in the world that drives into the minds of its alumni, that design is not a job but a way in which you live the rest of your life. You have always been deeply invested in the idea of making people recognise the importance of design. How far are we from having design in schools like the way they have maths and english?
Design is entering schools now, in ways that we might not recognise yet, but some schools are consciously teaching design, like the Riverside School in Ahmedabad, set up by Kiran Sethi. She now teaches design in a number of schools. Also part of her work is ‘Design For Change’ which is a worldwide design competition offering an opportunity to work on real world design issues, open to young designers. It is not about prescription, but about exploration and discovery, and then the making. It can’t be told—it is something that you understand and internalise through observation and exploration and eventually by doing things yourself. Also, it is not about making design a part of our school curriculum, but it is about developing a new attitude. But today we have all systems based on right or wrong. That has to change to begin with. NID has changed its colours and today it is placement priority and not entrepreneurship at the faculty and student level, unfortunately. India is far from having design as a core discipline as that can only happen if both Government and Industry begin to recognise design as something that creates value, and so far, the signs are pretty dim. NCERT has intriduced Graphic Design at the school level in the CBSE curriculum but design is still an art-and-crafts activity for them. The MHRD has released a design manifesto that urges all IITs and NIITs to start design-related programmes as well as to put design inside their core engineering curriculum.
The ‘craftsman-designer’ is not part of the indian design picture. The division between art, crafts and design—could you talk a little about this?
I helped set up two schools with design as an approach to education and these were sector-specific efforts. The first, was the IICD, Jaipur—looking at the crafts sector; and the second, was the BCDI, Agartala—looking at the needs of the bamboo sector. In both these schools, design is offered to the crafts community besides others. However these are in the periphery and not mainstream in any way.
Text Rukminee Guha Thakurta and Nityan Unnikrishnan