That India is on the rise is without question. Soon to be the world’s most populous country, its burgeoning middle classes are proving a lucrative market for Western companies and its call centre technology has left a mark on the British labour market. While its creative impact has been limited to date, the emergence of Indian-based contemporary designers looks set to change that, too. And Gunjan Gupta is one of those leading the charge.
A furniture and interior designer who collaborates with local artisans, Gupta is something in the mould of the Campana Brothers/ she admires local craftsmanship, but wants to apply the skills to products with a contemporary aesthetic. ‘It’s about attaching new values to existing craft,’ she says. ‘The sustainability of craftsmanship is a huge issue in India. Modernisation is changing the way we live and the type of products we buy, and whole communities are being left without a way of life. I wanted to establish a socially sustainable brand that helps these almost obsolete skills to survive.’
Gupta has been working as an interior designer in Delhi for more than ten years. She realised she was designing furniture for almost all her projects and, deciding her interests lay there, temporarily quit the country to study in the UK. In 2006 she completed an MA in Furniture Design at Central St Martins College of Art and Design, and, on returning to Delhi, set up design consultancy Studio Wrap.
‘In India, craft tends to be very nostalgic or souvenir-like, and today middle-class Indian consumers would rather buy imported furniture by companies like Moroso,’ says Gupta. ‘Studio Wrap is about contemporary design that honours craft and Indian elements. It’s about designing to international standards of quality and bringing those production values to artisan communities.’
Her launch products, which were on show at 100% Design in September, have a distinctly Indian feel and she describes her work as ‘playing with the Indian narrative’. ‘I recycle ancient Indian objects and legends into contemporary forms,’ she says. De Throne, a striking gold-and-silver-wrapped chair is typical of her aesthetic and of Studio Wrap’s approach to artisan skills. The chair’s basic elemental form and everyday-ness is subverted by covering the seat in 24-carat gold leaf and the back in silver. It has strong geometric lines, and the gold-leaf seat reflects and magnifies the silver-wrapped back. The product is handmade, with local artisans wrapping it in its precious metals. ‘Silver wrapping is a traditional craft, but it is usually done in a random way. Through my collaboration, I made it a more precise form and gave the object a more contemporary tense,’ says Gupta.
She was also commissioned by Droog Design to take part in this year’s inaugural FreeDesigndom festival in Amsterdam. The resulting piece, Cyclerecyclecycle, looked at creating street furniture from old bicycles – bikes are a common means of transport in both India and Amsterdam, but where old or broken bikes are thrown away in the Netherlands, in India people make carts or street furniture from them. ‘This project offered me an opportunity to engage with street culture in India and Amsterdam. Bikes are common to both, yet starkly different,’ says Gupta.
Her clients are varied, ranging from private commissions to commercial interiors. Recent commercial commissions include Swarovski, for which she created a crystal-covered ‘throne’ for London’s Design Week. And the future looks promising. Gupta plans to extend her own collection, with more products due to launch next year, probably at 100% Design. And Studio Wrap’s work has extended beyond silver and gold, to artisans working in stone carving, crystal and enamelling.
Gupta believes Indian design is on the rise. She names fashion designers Abraham & Thakore and Delhi-based silversmith Alex Davis as contemporaries to keep an eye out for. If her own work is anything to go by, it may not be long before Indian design is stealing a march on the West.