MANASA PRITHVI started Ira studio in 2012 when she sensed that the Indian crafts industry was stagnating with cheap imitations and archaic mediocrity. Adapting and developing antiquated traditions with contemporary minimalist sensibilities, she combines the dichotomy between these two design worlds in her work.
Manasa and I discovered each other's work on the internet. She interviewed me late 2015 for her own website, a thinking exercise that I thoroughly enjoyed. Naturally I am taken in by her work; I relate deeply to her values of understated elegance, restrained luxury and Indian minimalism.
PERSON OF INTEREST is a continuing series of informal chats with fellow independent thinkers bound by a common desire to create new meaning. Dvibhumi Lunch Box is my dabba of mental nourishment and I'm sharing it with you. Tuck in! - Vyshnavi
You studied at the University of Arts, London. What prompted you to come to India and set up a craft based design business in India?
Well, to be honest, I had to come back to India- it was very expensive to get a visa to stay back in the UK. But, the other thing is that I didn’t want to anyway. Towards the end of my Masters programme, the idea to start Ira Studio had been seeded in my head, and I was itching to come back to set it up. I had very clearly understood the design space I wanted to be in. I saw ways and reasons to work with the craft industry that had inspired me in the past and was the reason I wanted to get into design in the first place.
|Madras Trays combine simplicity with functionality, with strips of brass inlaid in Teak wood to echo the aesthetics of the quintessential Madras checks of the South. Source: Ira Studio|
I wanted our crafts to be more functional and relevant to today’s times, and hence the desire to sustain it by re-creating an identity for them through my work. And, ultimately it is the very simple, but fulfilling reason of wanting to design, work with hand processes and create beautiful pieces that fuelled me to set up Ira Studio.
What is the essence of contemporary Indian design and how do you bring it alive in your work?
I think the idea of what contemporary Indian design is, is constantly evolving. I can’t speak for anybody else, but to me it is a relevance to the times we live in, infused with an essence of our culture and tradition. Aesthetically speaking, it is about a quiet minimalism- not clinically stark, but with warmth and elegance. This minimalism is not new, and it is certainly not Western. We had our Indian idea of minimalism in the past too, in our crafts such as in traditional metal ware, mud houses, some of the simple cotton saris or white dhotis. Yes, there is also an ornate, decorative side, but we often forget the simplicity we found in our own backyard. What we are doing with contemporary Indian design is just Indianising the global (which we are pros at)!
I make my products functional with a very reductionist approach to the design, retaining the important essence of the craft technique.
|The Tekku stools handcrafted in brass and wood using the Indian sheet metal technique and tarakashi (metal inlay technique). Source: Ira Studio|
What is the Ira Studio way of creating something?
The initial process involves looking at a particular craft technique as design inspiration. I then do a fair bit of research into the craft, its techniques, the design repertoire, the cultural background, and the craftsmen. This involves travelling to places where the craft is popular and interacting directly with the artisans, sometimes documenting the process. I see how best I can expand the products of the craft to a contemporary context, and I try to marry my aesthetics with functional design and tradition.
|Tekku Stool with brass inlay pattern, in the making. Source: Ira Studio|
We do a few samples or prototypes and proceed with the final piece. The process is often very organic and usually the final design isn’t set in stone. So, during the process the design often changes with either inputs from the artisan or with a bit of experimentation. It’s often holding back on creating too much and letting things just be.
For example, our Dokra Lights were inspired by the simple process of construction of typical Dokra moulds with beeswax and their thread like texture. The designs of our Copper Tables were inspired by the way huge copper and brass pots are indigenously and crudely made. We asked the artisans to stop their process half way, to achieve the ridges. The Hand Beaten Brass Lights are an obvious inspiration from nature.
|Dokra lights. Source: Ira Studio|
Who are your clients?
Our clients are world over, mainly from Europe and India. I find that there is a real, true appreciation for the handmade. Since we keep our products original and limited in numbers, this adds value to the product. There’s a special appreciation for the unique characters of a handmade product- the sublime marks of the maker, and the fact that no two pieces can ever be alike. They are happy to know the product they keep in their home cannot be found very easily everywhere else. Our products are designed to be global, with subtle reflections to the Indian artistic heritage. Hence, they suit a variety of spaces, despite the geographical boundaries.
Where does traditional handcrafting based design stand in a world of low cost fast fashion, 3D printing? Do you think handcrafted holds commercial promise?
I think it’s unfair to compare the two. Mass production and hand production are two very different kinds of processes. However, it is unfortunate when designers mass manufacture utilising skilled artisans, as cheap labourers. The essence of handcrafted products is entirely different. And, I am confident there is a market for it. People do appreciate and value handmade. There is a certain quality and aesthetic that is achieved by handcrafted products, the labour intensive techniques, and the attention and love given to each piece makes the product soulful; a machine made, mass manufactured product lacks this quality.
|Making lights using the Indian sheet metal technique. Source: Ira Studio|
We use technology to promote our work, and bridge the gap between designers and consumers. Not everything can be handmade nor should everything be driven by technology. There is a space for slow design and one for fast production. We require both, so there shouldn’t be a competition between the two types of production. I believe both kinds can co-exist in harmony in today’s market.
What learning can you share with those starting out an independent craft-based design business?
Be patient. Working with crafts, that are hand-driven and not machine driven can be unpredictable. Artisans sometimes can be unpredictable; the design outcome can be unpredictable. Making a product takes time. Embrace slow design in all its glory. And, I cannot stress this enough- be original, be authentic. Your designs and your business should be your unique voice.
What are your ambitions for Ira Studio?
Explore more crafts and make bespoke products for beautiful spaces. And perhaps, someday, open a quaint little retail space.