A Talent For Crafting Spaces
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Through Baaya Design, Shibani Jain combines her considerable experience in the craft sector with an innate understanding of interiors to help customers create their own little nest

Shibani Jain

How did you become passionate about crafts?

SJ: I became passionate about crafts as a student at NID where I was studying visual communication. Professor MP Ranjan had an infectious passion for crafts. As the design process guru at NID, he opened up several students to the possibility of considering indigenous art and craft as a legitimate practice. He was one of the early influences on craft for me. When he taught me about the intricacies of handmade articles and explained their various interesting facets, I was hooked. The world that Indian crafts existed in opened itself up to me in stages. Every time I traveled in India I noticed that each region had something special to offer and I made it my mission to help uncover that. The realization that many of these arts and skills were languishing in dire neglect also served to build my interest and steel my resolve. The clincher was when Professor Ranjan gave me the idea for a dot com business that bridged the gap between the artisans and the market; the timing seemed ripe as I too was looking to start something new.

Did you pursue a career in the craft sector immediately upon graduation?

SJ: I started my career with a Tata company, specifically an e-learning venture where I worked on web-related and multimedia-related digital work. It was very lucrative and exciting. As the head of design, I set up the in-house department. We did very well but a niggling sense of introspection kept at me. I wondered if I was making enough of a difference. And that is when I felt I should do something on my own. I launched Craftsbridge from Pune in the year 2000. That was an era when dot coms were the ‘next big thing’. We were one of the first dot coms to start working in the space of selling craft-based products. Around 2007, I witnessed the space beginning to shrink. The big funding began to dry up and we had to shut down. But the experience taught me a lot about crafts, and about this almost primeval connect that we almost stood to lose if we didn’t take any action.

How did ‘Baaya Design’ come about?

SJ: I started Baaya Design in 2009 with the vision to preserve traditional art by making it relevant to contemporary lifestyles through innovative designs. It came out of the fact that the arts of India were not being showcased in any of the major stores or the art galleries when all the while we were sitting on top of a humongous talented artisan-base. Baaya is named after the Indian weaverbird, which weaves a beautiful nest for itself with carefully picked leaves and twigs. Baaya was focused on bringing out the arts of India. Slowly the arts and crafts were turned around into becoming customized project work. Studio Baaya, the design arm, provides bespoke customized solutions for corporates, hotels and restaurants, and residential spaces. We offer highly imaginative ways of working through the crafts and refining the output, innovating the work the artisans do for modern-day interiors.

What does it take to bring traditional art with a contemporary twist into Indian homes and workspaces?

SJ: There are myriad possibilities in the application of these forms. The fact that they are malleable and handmade makes crafts easy to customize. Artisans have the skill to apply a craft faster or better than anyone else but this isn’t enough. A sense of the space, of the colors, of the purpose of the building or structure, becomes vital. The skill has to be translated to the interiors as per size or theme. Through Baaya, users now have the ability to tap into over 70 art forms. The sky is the limit - one can go very contemporary using abstract forms or highly traditional with heritage motifs.

How would you describe your creative process?

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