The Channapatna prototype chair;
Famously described as an ‘optimistic, love-spreading activist’ by some of his peers, Shillong-born and Bengaluru-based designer, Sandeep Sangaru, is set to showcase his designs at Ambiente 2019 next February in Frankfurt. The five-day international trade fair will see India as the partner country.
As a child, Sangaru would often pull apart and put back together sundry items, from toys to bicycles.“I always loved making things by myself,” he recalls, which was something he learned to do at the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad. After graduating, he wandered for years doing various things. “When I stumbled on the crafts of India through an assignment to photograph and research for a book called Handmade in India, I saw what we have as a resource and knowledge of sustainable traditional practices of making everyday things.
I decided to work with the craftsmen of the country and see how I could contribute as a designer,” says Sandeep, who set up Sangaru Design Studio some 12 years ago.
Sangaru started to work on various craft projects around the country from the Northeast, Kashmir, Rajasthan and Karnataka, and travelled to many more places to document crafts and craftspeople. But the story was the same everywhere he went—the younger generation was not keen to take the work forward.
“I realised these valuable practices would disappear soon if we didn’t find a way to encourage and show value in what they practiced,” says he.
His work with Kashmiri artisans to revive the lost Persian crafts of pinjrakari and khatumbandh made it to Christie’s, London. His furniture line, Truss-Me for the Tripura Bamboo Mission, got him numerous awards, including the Red Dot Design Award in 2009. Juan van Wassenhove, an entrepreneur and art collector, chose Truss-Me for The Temple Hotel in Beijing.
But Sangaru is humble as ever. “All I’m trying to do is to come up with new application using traditional knowledge of the craftsmen and the skills they have to design and make products that would in some way bring in better value and encourage the young to see and believe in their work. I’m just demonstrating that we can take our crafts to the new world in a completely different way and at the same time, bring in more value to the system,” he explains.
A stickler for detailing, he uses the wood-lacquered craft—Channapatna—to design furniture. Traditionally used in toy-making, he has given it a new twist, thus adding longevity to it. “When I design something new, the form of art becomes the means to represent where it comes from, otherwise it loses its character. So, when I design I need to be sensitive to the traditions and culture of the people where it belongs,” he says.
What does he hope to achieve with Ambiente 2019? “I do not know exactly. All I want to do is showcase the best of what we as designers and craftspeople from India can bring to the world. We have to start acknowledging craftsmen as a wealth of knowledge and not just people with mere skills to make things. It is not just the craftsmen but the whole ecosystem that has to develop for design to work seamlessly.”