Jaipur-based product designer Tejas Soni has only one mission, to wrap traditional tribal skills in a contemporary cocoon, resulting in products that are both unique and utilitarian.
Deep in the forests of Chhatisgarh, a woman is sitting under a tree, busy creating a wax model. She then makes a clay mould around the model and pours molten metal. This melts the wax and when the clay cools down, she breaks it to reveal a shining beauty. In Jaipur, there’s a flurry of activity; artisans are using chetai and naqqashi crafts to emboss and engrave on metal, respectively. Enriched by folk motifs and rural life, many inanimate objects are brought to life by skilled craftsmen and women. Cut to city life: tradition has been put on a pedestal, locked away in cupboards or placed in museums to gather dust. Affected by this, product designer Tejas Soni decided to change the way the world looked at ethnic craft by starting his company, Tejas Soni Designs, in August 2010.
A graduate in Craft Product Design from Indian Institute of Crafts & Design, Jaipur, Tejas always had a fondness for designing, crafting and creating. He attributes his romance with metal to the fact that he was brought up in a family of goldsmiths. “I kept experimenting with new designs in my father’s studio and every time, I learnt something new,” says Tejas. When he was not experimenting in the studio, Tejas found himself interacting with people who appreciated crafts. “India’s tribal areas are very raw, untouched; there’s simplicity in their surroundings and the richness in their culture,” explains the designer. Thus, after graduating in 2009, he channelized his admiration of these qualities into something much bigger and better. The result? Tejas’s design and aesthetics teamed with tribal craftsmen’s skill, gave a modern spin to traditional techniques.
However, it’s not by accident that Tejas primarily works with dhokra, chetai and naqqashi styles. While visiting Chhatisgarh, he met dhokra artisans, understood their technique and talent, and fell in love with the art form. Tejas soon realized that the style could be taken beyond human and god figurines; using a comtemporary idiom, it could easily result in flatware and barware. Back home in Jaipur, he chanced upon two more crafts, chetai and naqqashi, that were on the verge of oblivion. Incidentally, all three, dhokra, chetai and naqqashi, use metal as their medium of creativity. And if it wasn’t interventions like Tejas’s, these crafts, like so many before them, would’ve died a natural death sooner or later for want of takers and lack of resuscitation.
Each of Tejas’s flora and fauna-inspired products begins with hours of perfecting the design on paper. Then, he chooses a craft that would beget the best outcome, following which the craftsmen begin making a prototype. Each product has a different gestation period, but generally it takes up to 45 days for a creation to see the light of day. Since brass has been the choice of material for handicrafts traditionally, Tejas, too, uses the metal as much as he can. The fact that it is easily available and has better scope for different surface finishes, is icing on the cake.
Be it barware and accessories, dinnerware and tea sets, decoratives and table accessories, Tejas has something to offer for every room of the house. Popular collections include the Banana Leaf and Lily Leaf ranges that use the chetai and naqqashi craft techniques respectively. Another interesting line is the fauna-inspired dhokra collection that he did recently. The Biscuit Platter, the Animal Head Fruit Picks and snake-like napkin rings belong to this range. The Biscuit Platter has been inspired by the daily life of the people from Bastar. It is a depiction of a rural man standing on the edge of a pool, overlooking his cattle while they bathe. The fruit picks use animals that are native to the village of Bastar, while the napkin rings are inspired by snakes, another common sight in villages. But if you ask Tejas to pick a favourite from the long list of products, pat comes the reply: “The Peanut Dry Fruit Bowl that has been created using wax casting. It’s one-of-a-kind; a sculptural expression of a peanut, with intricacies of the texture and form. I have not replicated the piece till date,” explains Tejas, who also makes custom orders.
As for the future, Tejas plans to work more with crafts to create modern everyday objects using ancient skills and expertise that will not only grace urban homes but also be showcased to the world. Now, that’s craft from the heart.
Currently, Tejas’s products can be purchased online at Zaarga, Aniika, Fabulloso and Afday. Also available in store like U in New Delhi and Mumbai and Ishana, in T3 Airport, New Delhi.
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