London Design Fair celebrates Indian design

Katie | August 31, 2016

With 2017 earmarked by former Prime Minister David Cameron as the India Year of Culture, promising a year-long celebration of cultural ties between the UK and India, and increasing numbers of Indian-born or Indian-based new designers emerging onto the British design scene, the London Design Fair has selected India to be its first annual guest country pavilion.

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This Is India, co-curated by Tiipoi founder Spandana Gopal and the London Design Fair‘s Jimmy McDonald and designed by Kangan Arora, will showcase ten emerging and established India-centric designers and brands across product, textile and furniture, including Leah Singh, Aman Khanna and Objectry.

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“For the 10th Anniversary of the Fair we have decided to invite a guest country to join us in our celebrations,” says London Design Fair founder Jimmy McDonald. “With an increasing overview of the global design scene, we have been observing with great interest the number of new independent designers and studios from India making their first inroads on the global design scene. For this reason India has been selected to be our first annual guest country pavilion.”

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Two London-based Indian designers are leading the project, with Spandana Gopi working with Jimmy on the curation and Kangan Arora designing the space. The premise for Spandana’s curation of the pavilion is to reveal the fact that the Indian approach to design entwines head and hand together, highlighting her belief that historically and culturally, India has never created formal separations between design, craft and architecture, because they exist within a more holistic system of creation than exists in Western Europe.

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“In India bespoke is not a luxury – it’s very normal,” she told Design Geek. “It’s quite common for Indian families to have something made just for them – if you want a bed, you commission a carpenter. This means that design and experimentation happens alongside fabrication, which makes design very accessible in India.” Existing products by each designer will sit alongside bespoke pieces commissioned just for the show to highlight this phenomenon. “India is known for fabrication, but not necessarily for design in the formal sense, so we’re trying to show how the two can work together,” she says. “We want to show that anything is possible.”

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The design of the space has been inspired by the Jantar Mantar – 13 architectural astronomical instruments in New Delhi commissioned by a Rajasthani prince and built in 1724 – and is designed to challenge people’s perceptions of Indian design. The installation will comprise 450 pots – half hand-painted, and half left in their natural state. “I’ve chosen to use terracotta pots because terracotta and clay is used so much in Indian households,” Kangan told Design Geek. “So I’m using these humble terracotta pots – and the idea of repetition and stacking. Wherever you go in India, the first thing that hits you is the colour, and the next thing is just stacks of things everywhere – stacks, repetition and volume.”

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The pots will be arranged to emulate the Jantar Manta and so that as visitors approach from one side all the pots will seem to be painted, and from the other side, all will appear to be unpainted. “It’s all about changing perspectives,” says Kangan. “People’s perspective of Indian design is changing. For a long time, people thought of India only in terms of cheap manufacturing – the skill that is involved in that manufacturing has been overlooked because of the low cost. Now, people are going to India for skilled labour and for the traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation.”

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Perceptions are changing both at home and abroad. “Contemporary Indian designers are taking the craft, the traditional ways of making things and the plentiful resources of India, and really starting to celebrate those things,” she says. “But they are doing so with a really modern design sensibility. And the two things can exist together. Materials and the making are at the heart of what they are doing, but it’s about taking that and putting it in a different context.”

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This Is India will be at the London Design Fair 22 – 25 September 2016. Register for your tickets here.

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Further Reading for the Especially Geeky ::

Founding Editor – Katie Treggiden

Having established confessions of a design geek in 2010, Katie Treggiden has gone on to a career in design journalism, writing for titles such as The Guardian, The Telegraph, Elle Decoration, Stylist, Design Milk and Ideal Home. In 2014, she launched Fiera, an independent magazine dedicated to discovering new talent at the world’s design fairs. Her second book, Makers of East London, was published in 2015.

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