Colour consultant Latika Khosla talks about contemporary craftspeople and how they find personal expression through traditional art forms.

Latika Khosla is on the board of the Color Marketing Group USA and the founder-organizer of Colors India. She is also the founder-director of Freedom Tree, a wholly-Indian, colour-led lifestyle brand with retail presence in Parel, part of Mumbai’s trendy mill district. Her studio, Freedom Tree Design, undertakes colour onsultancies and design assignments. Latika is also on the trend panel for Azko Nobel Colour Futures.


The onset of spring brings out a creative sprit. Art shows, design conclaves, retail exhibits… Under the canopy of rain trees, a landmark event on south Mumbai’s calendar is the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. The busy downtown street gets cordoned off to traffic. It is taken over by a young design spirit. These are the trendsetters of what we are going to like and see in the near future — the independent young designers showcasing their products.

Modern makers

I think of them as the backslash generation. Their introduction is multiple. Everyone has two or three proficiencies. They may have trained as a computer engineer, a jockey, an architect, a musician or a writer. And most of them left the comfort of the mainstream in pursuit of greater self-expression through their dream.

The need for personal expression is a great drive behind this creative outpouring. While we saw many of these designers showcasing their individual expression, it is the group dynamic, the presence of so much diverse outpourings that is finding an appreciative audience.

Intention India

There is a strong movement that takes pride in interpreting India. A desire, as stated by the brand Mad(e) in India: “Wanting each one in the world to celebrate the spirit of India by owning a piece of it.” Swati Sharma, of Brahma Karma says her prints and products portray, “Indian craftsmanship in a modern avatar that appeals to the urban sensibility around the world.”
With global aspirations, there is a demand for an aesthetically correct product. To make something modern, the designers take rich details from across time: mythology, Indian scriptures, the ancient and the nouveau, the quirks, colours and, most of all, the Indian identity.

Personal Journeys

There are so many personal linkages the modern makers have with their craft. All share a passion for the crafts, with an overlay of business and design education.

From Varnam comes a series of designs that interpret a 200-year-old craft into lifestyle products for everyday use.

Karthik Vaidyanathan, the founder of Varnam (colour in Sanskrit), an engineer and MBA graduate, never let the child in him grow up. He was fascinated by the Channapatna toys on his trips to Mysore. Eventually, he left his job and set up a social enterprise with women as the primary artisans. Swati grew up in Rajasthan, where handicraft is woven into the very fabric of life. Three years of post-graduate studies in crafts and design introduced her to the world of techniques across India in a more disciplined way. She developed a deep appreciation for both traditional knowledge and the skills and demands of the contemporary culture. Harshad Patankar, an engineer, kept in touch with his artistic side, roaming the bazaars of Mumbai and keeping in touch with urban materials. He left his job and opened a full scale design studio along with his architect wife Aditi, creating quirky objects, art and fashion for interiors.

God is in the details

Swati recollects her mentor, Sanjeev Bothra, saying, “For a designer, detail is God and quality should be religion.” All creators want to make  beautiful things every day. Little Bent says, “The backbone of our design is the belief that beauty should be useful and utility should be beautiful.”

More than the block, it’s the way it’s used. Brahma Karma’s block prints scatter colour like light on fine fabric, bringing freshness to a room.

Vivid Vegetal

Varnam is an ode to a vibrant and colourful India. It has reinterpreted a 200-year-old toy tradition as kitchen and bar accessories, stuff for kids rooms and lamps. Its vivid lacquerware, in spice tones of turmeric, vermillion and henna, is made from a local soft wood, which is deftly turned to create endearing products. The completely eco-friendly lacquer comes from a microscopic tree insect, while the wood is polished with leaves. Like a flock of birds with brilliant plumage, Varnam’s products fit in effortlessly into Indian homes as bright accents.

Very Softly

Brahma Karma’s fabrics are like a swathe of light on a summer’s day. Swati’s block prints are in soft colours on even softer quality fabrics. Set against white backgrounds, charming patterns of colour peep through, making the product eminently trendy and usable for modern interiors. The prints are recognizable forms of abstract floral patterns such as chrysanthemums and dandelion spores. Geometric tiles and grills give a balance to the collection, while liquid prints in stripes and blurred checks resemble a summer mirage as the day goes by softly. A fun departure is a tiny telephone print, and as a customer explains nicely: “It’s what you’d call a conversation piece…”

A tiny telephone print is what you could call a conversation piece!

Warm Woodcraft

This artisan couple’s product range is a little like witchcraft. Surprises lurk in solid wood. Underlying their straightforwardness is a dark streak. Little Bent is the twist in the tale, where you do not know what awaits you around the corner. The aha! of wonder when you open a concealed panel in a giant shoe to reveal a shoe rack. The giggle of delight when you realize that the huge stack of books is a chest of drawers. The little shiver, on seeing a lantern lit by a ghostly hand. Not knowing what waits behind the monocle peephole. Little Bent strives to exaggerate the simple things that make up the big picture. Each piece is lovingly handcrafted from various polished woods. Whether a signature clock, a home accessory or a fashionable neckpiece, each is artisanal and unique.

Designed by Little Bent, the shoe sculpture opens unexpectedly to reveal an obvious shoe rack.

Paper in the Park

Venkatramana Yerramshetty, who heads his architecture and interior design practice, Venkat Designs, believes art is not just for visual appeal but also has a functional utility. His public sculptures in residential areas are placed to provoke and bring about social interaction. An installation of a human figure sitting on a bench encourages community interaction and involvement with the sculpture. The installations in public spaces and residential clusters encourage the use of recycled materials. They invite individuals to patch them up with waste paper and glue, which is readily available in everybody’s home.

Venkatramana works with various materials. Functional utility, and conservation by recycling led to paper in the park. Anyone can take ownership and patch up these sculptures made of recycled material.

Cartoon Nation

If traditional Indian artisanship is about tools of the trade, the tool of the new artisan is on their desktop! Photographs, which capture what the eye sees in an instant, morph with digital illustrations. The fast food generation consumes with immediacy. The visual is instantaneously digested. Large text and cartoon blurbs are the sutradhars in this story.

The young artisans are sutradhars of a new India, and also image-makers. Digital morphing builds a bridge between the past and the present.

Mad(e) in India strives to create and offer thoughtful and interesting products that capture the essence of India and have their own story to tell. Anything which depicts India in its vivid form; there is a focus on joy, experience and the pride of ownership of the end product. Sculptures, architecture, Indian language scripts, mandalas, and stereotypical caricatures, all is fair game. The product is in intense graphic colours against dark backgrounds that give it luminosity. Hyper pink, taxi yellow, plastic blue and signal red. The graphics in bright accents spill across products for the home and beyond… ties, boxer shorts and laptop cases.

Little Bent’s monocle peephole has an intriguing design, and leaves you curious about who’s standing behind it.

These designers are like kids in a sandbox. I admire their unabashed passion and will let them have the last word. Their design is for the people who love India, take great pride in either being Indian or are intrigued by this amazing, wonderful and incredible country!