Sunday, November 1, 2015

Mayank Mansingh Kaul on a roll

It is a rarity that you find an artist so very willing to talk and share his thoughts and learnings as Mayank does and that too with an amazing amount of energy that shows in his consistent and deep voice, and a freewheeling nature that sweeps across topics ranging from the politics and arts of Venice biennale to real anger and concerns about the crafts man going unaccredited in a design environment.

Mayank begins his talk gracefully informing the audience about his own work and journey starting as  a designer from NID to an archivist, a policy maker, an entrepreneur  to a curator. It is this richness of his experience that enriches his talks and make them very informative and educative.

In the course of his talk one gets a fair idea of the origins, evolution and politics of some very important institutions and personalities in the design context. More than just informing, Mayank makes his politics very clear even at the outset of his talk. In calling the first major major exhibition of  Indian crafts in American soil, post Indian independence 'Textile and ornamental arts from India' in 1955 and carefully avoiding the words crafts and designs, the then American preoccupation with crafts and design as in 'Industrial Design' is exposed.

Interestingly it is this exhibition that opens up a long association between Pupul Jayakar and Charles Eames. It is the former's study and report that would lay the foundations for NID.  In spite of NID's  roots in this American romance of 'Industrial Design', Mayank is very happy and proud that NID has carved its own unique path in encouraging the crafts and has grown into the oldest surviving stand alone institution for crafts and design.

The initial days of NID also saw people coming from Bahaus, Germany and bringing with them the culture and practices that would go on to define the Institution.

Talking of individuals, the contribution of Nelly Sethna in making Kalamkari the prominent and popular name in Textile design that now it is, shines bright.

The phenomena of Khadhi and its uniqueness to the Indian national movement is a glorious and separate chapter in itself. While talking of the glories of Khadi, Mayank was also quick to add an alternative narrative of the movements in impact on artisans and designers who were producing richly designed silk and other textiles, who were loosing their market and livelihood with the wide adoption of white and plain cotton signifying the growing Nationalistic fervor.  It is interesting to note how Sarojini Naidu championed the Khadhi while empathising with and strongly supporting this alternative industry as well. This is evident in the richly designed and ornamented appearance of Sarojini NAidu in most of the photographs all the more prominent and contrasting while standing besides Gandhi.

The birth of the Calico Museum in Ahmedabad, its innovation in the engaging display of textiles, encouraging a dialogue with the viewer, in contrast to the relic like displays in western exhibits of Indian textiles, where the elephant finds an unavoidable presence, was a pioneering effort in many ways. The Crafts museum in Delhi was the next milestone in the journey leading upto the formation of NID.

Le Corbusier's contribution to the design collection in India started with some simple furniture and tapestry designs in private properties leading upto to the mammoth contribution to the city of Chandigarh. The lecture concluded on a worried note about these design artifacts falling in to the hands of people who may not be in a position to appreciate the value of these rarities.