Ranjan Bordoloi is hoping to revive the craft of brass utensil making in his home state of Assam by introducing the metal in his furniture designs
How did your design journey begin?
I always had a strong interest in drawing as a child, but wasn’t able to imagine a career in art/ design. I was studying Electronics in Shillong when a friend suggested I apply to National Institute of Design. When I got the brochure for the National Institute of Design entrance examination, I intuitively opted for furniture design and although I was selected, I could not join the course then. In 2012, I joined the Department of Design at Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati for a Master’s in Design, with Furniture Design as my major.
As a student, when I was supposed to be doing an internship, I spent the whole summer in my college library, reading design history and the way people practice design independently. That’s when I decided not to work for anyone else and started working on self initiated projects right after graduation.
Tell us something about Studio Bordoloi.
After graduation I was offered a place to study product design at the Royal College of Art in London, but I decided not to join due to financial constraints. Fortunately, I won a few awards for my student works and was invited to take part in major design exhibitions such as India Design ID, Milan Furniture Fair 2015, London Design Festival 2015 and Gen Next Designer 2015 (curated by Elle Decor India and Architect Ashiesh Shah), among others. The response was overwhelming and I started getting enquiries from buyers.
The first experience of selling a product gave me immense confidence and I started Studio Bordoloi in Guwahati in 2015. The primary objective of the studio is to act as a collaborative platform to be able to work with the best people/organizations from craft and industry. At Studio Bordoloi we are interested in materials and making processes (both traditional craftsmanship and high tech industrial manufacturing). So far we have had the opportunity to work with brands/organizations like Cappellini, Godrej Design Lab, Design Clinic National Institute of Design, National Institute of Fashion Technology Bengaluru and Vayu Design for Living. We have also been working on some furniture/objects for a Spanish brand and are planning a solo show of self produced works in Mumbai.
What is the story behind the Pitoloi Chair?
The Pitoloi Chair is a part of my graduation thesis project where I was trying to explore the possibilities of using the traditional materials and techniques of Assam in furniture making. The chair was made in collaboration with artisans who made brass utensils and cane furniture.
The chair won a student award called ‘The Park Elle Décor Student 2015’ in the category of ‘the best use of traditional material’. It was showcased at India Design ID where Giulio Cappellini (the art director of Milan based furniture brand, Cappellini) spotted it and made it a part of Capellini Next 2015.
What led to the Pitoloi collection?
The collection is a result of my continuous effort to collaborate with the community of brass utensil making artisans in Kamrup, Assam. The livelihood of the artisans depends upon their practice of this craft. Unfortunately, like many other Indian crafts, this age old tradition is slowly dying due to several issues, such as the lack of innovation. They have only been involved in making traditional artifacts for local markets until now.
The decision of working with brass was a pragmatic one. In a bid to generate sustainable employment opportunities within the community, I have been working with master artisan Emam Ali to revive the craft by designing products for a wider audience.
Share your experience of working with artisans.
I have immense respect for people who can make things well. It takes a lot of time and effort to learn the skill sets for the perfect execution of any product. For the last four years, I have had the opportunity to work in many craft clusters in Assam, Meghalaya and recently in Mysore, Karnataka. I have learnt a lot from them. Most importantly I have understood the fact that before making an attempt to design/make in collaboration with artisans, we must respect the craft and their way of working.
Tell us about the Kaathfula Chair?
I participated in Godrej Design Lab, an annual competition organized by Godrej Interio in collaboration with Elle Decor India. Every year, they shortlist eight designers and help them to make prototypes through this platform. I submitted a basic mock-up of the Kaathfula Chair. Luckily, it got selected, and I worked at their prototype workshop in Mumbai for a month to get the final product made. It was my first experience of working in an industrial manufacturing facility.
‘Kaathfula’ means ‘mushroom’ in the Assamese language. Its design takes inspiration from imagining how it would feel to sit on a large mushroom. Individual layers of foam are joined together by thin metal rods within the chair. The density and flexibility of EVA foam help to create a perfectly ergonomic and dynamic silhouette.
What difference do awards make to a designer?
Last year I won two Red Dots at the Red Dot concept award 2017 Singapore and Elle Décor International Design Award 2017 India in the furniture category. Prior to that, I have won a few student awards which enabled me to showcase my designs at major exhibitions in India and on international platforms.
Currently, the Pitoloi stool is on display at the Red Dot Design Museum in Singapore. I have also been selected for the 2018 Forbes India’s list of ‘30 under 30’. Awards definitely help a designer in terms of visibility and credibility, especially at the early stage of their career. Young designers need that kind of encouragement and support in order for them to grow into mature thinkers. But then again, awards and recognition should not become the primary goal of working on projects.
What have been the challenges you have faced in the business of design?
I’m still struggling to make ends meet. Sadly, the design industry in India is still at a very nascent stage. Unlike in developed countries, we don’t have many brands and design galleries supporting independent young designers with production, marketing, selling, etc. Most designers here need to do everything from scratch, right from the initial idea to retailing. It’s like making a movie. Imagine how it would be if one had to do everything from writing a script, acting, producing, directing to marketing and distribution. Multitasking is counterproductive.
I’m in the process of setting up a studio space. Together with a team of enthusiastic individuals, I would like to be engaged in more interesting and meaningful projects. Apart from practice, I would like to teach. I have started teaching as a guest faculty at National Institute of Fashion Technology Shillong and have also got a few offers from other institutes. I believe it’s a great way to learn and research at the same time.
This article was originally published in POOL 96.
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