Age of the artisan: 'This and That' retells country's rich craft story through vernacular design language
A spatial designer from the Kent Institute of Art and Design, Ginwala launched 'This and That' in 2016, but her creative journey began a decade or so earlier as an intern at an interior decor firm
In a craft culture dating back to the 18th century, men of the Muriya tribe in the remote Bastar region of central India created simple, yet beautifully carved wooden doors. Made of locally abundant sal wood, these formed the portals of their temples and ghotuls (community centres).
But with the gradual mainstreaming of tribal communities, and the effect of the elements, all that is left of their traditional architecture are some columns and doors that hold mud walls together in a few of their villages. Forlorn and forgotten remnants of a not-so-distant past.
Not any more. For, some two years ago, they caught the keen artistic eye of Ariane Thakore Ginwala, founder of Ahmedabad-based 'This and That', who has since brought the craft bang into the
present by repurposing it as panels for cabinets, sideboards, consoles, benches and even beds for her
Bastar Collection. Not just unique in concept, but impeccable in execution.
“The collection was like the doors it evolved from, uniting two worlds separated by time — an ancient culture finding expression in contemporary design. They tell a story of a living culture, and the Muriyas’ deep relationship with the forest they call home manifests itself in the nature-inspired motifs carved with simple hand tools,” Ginwala says.
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All these original techniques and materials were used in the making of the collection with each of the panels used in their entirety, retaining the patina that envelops a slowly aged piece of wood. Little wonder then that this one-of-a-kind range won her the EDIDA Designer of the Year award in 2021.
The same revive-and-restore mantra runs through her subsequent work as well, and the two she’s most proud of are the Laakh and Jadeli collections. “We revived the art of lacquerware by experimenting with elliptical forms for our radical Laakh range,” she says. The vibrant pops of colour, typical of lacquerware, make a strong statement when juxtaposed with black. In Jadeli, meticulously crafted intricate inlay work draws inspiration from European and Persian techniques.
A spatial designer from the Kent Institute of Art and Design, Ginwala launched 'This and That' in 2016, but her creative journey began a decade or so earlier as an intern at an interior decor firm in Ahmedabad.
“It was the renovation of my family home by the same firm that opened my eyes to the joy of design,” she recalls. Also, on holidays around the country, she was drawn to native crafts that were inextricably woven into the homes and lives of people she visited. That’s what gave birth to this vision of using India’s diverse artisanal prowess to create timeless furniture, textiles and rugs. “Our USP is the seamless union of vernacular and contemporary styles,” she affirms.
The fact that everything is fabricated in-house maintains the brand’s quality, authenticity, precision and originality.
“Design is the sharpest tool in our workshop and we believe in constantly challenging conventional shapes and forms. We chisel, hammer and shape the salvaged pieces into forms that question boundaries of technique, material and possibility,” she explains.
Restoring reclaimed wood and antiques needs the expertise of skilled craftsmen, all of whom work under her eagle eye.
While she is the brand’s sole furniture designer, her NIFT and NID-alumnus niece, Anahita, is in charge of textiles.
“A piece gets conceptualised after many conversations and edited evolutions, further reinforced with research and, most times, by instinct. We travel far and deep, collecting objects and ideas that inspire us. Antiquity, heirlooms, historical motifs, folk art and architectural elements, all have a story to be retold and recast to speak a fresh language,” she elaborates.
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The use of eco-friendly, indigenous materials and ethical production techniques for a sustainable future is Ginwala’s gospel. “Natural, native and artisanal are the keystones on which we balance our work. The artisans we work with are my constant inspiration,” she adds.
Eventually, as Ginwala concludes, the idea is not only to reinterpret the richness of Indian heritage, but also to work towards nourishing the communities that create them, and to ignite interest in
younger generations to keep them in perpetuation.