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Ayush Kasliwal. Whether you look at his designs or talk to the man himself, you are left in awe of the Founder and Designer of Ayush Kasliwal Furniture Design (AKFD), an internationally renowned and much awarded design studio. An advocate of traditional craft, Ayush has been instrumental in reinventing many Indian crafts for modern sensibilities. The products he designs range from furniture and lighting to home accessories and more, all built around a strong Indian ethos.
We caught up with Ayush in a delightful and memorable conversation. Everything about Ayush Kasliwal rings true with a sense of purpose, honesty and simplicity. His designs are just an extension of the man that he is. Here are some extracts from our conversation…
Tell us about your childhood experiences and how they influenced you.
I was blessed to grow up in an environment that was very conducive to being creative. I was born in Jaipur and my family moved to Bolgatanga, Ghana when I was just 4. My sister was twice my age, and I had no one to play with at home. So I invented a lot of self-play, and started creating things with bits and bobs I found. Since we lived in a remote area, everyone around me was making something or the other. I used to observe our watchman make baskets and see neighbours stitching or knitting. I guess that’s when I began enjoying the process of creating things.
(Ayush Kasliwal in a deep discussion with artisans at his workshop)
Visiting my grandfather in India each year in the holidays was exciting as well, as he was an art lover with a huge collection of art books. I remember he had this stunning bronze Vishnu statue in his room, that I used to keep staring at and admiring.
When I was 8, I became a boarding school student at Daly College, Indore. My art teacher there, Mrs. Chouhan, really influenced me. She let our imaginations run wild. I had a classmate who was a day scholar, and whose father was an architect. When I visited his home, I was enamored by the models that his father had on display. So, back then I used to tell everyone I wanted to become an architect, without really knowing what they did! I just thought they made models. A bridge, dam or skyscraper became real, once you made a model of it. And I was fascinated by how these beautiful things were made.
(The gigantic Mudra installation at the New Delhi International Airport, designed and created by Ayush Kasliwal's AKFD)
Was a career in design planned?
It happened by chance. I wanted to pursue architecture but there weren’t too many options when I was in school. I was a good student, and with my father being a doctor, I knew I would be pushed into writing the IIT and medical entrance exams. The entrance exam for National Institute of Design (NID) was held before these other entrance tests, and it clashed with our pre-boards, so my friends and I wrote it to skip our pre-boards! As luck would have it, I got into NID, and that was that!
(Furniture and other home decor creations from AKFD)
How was your experience at NID?
I was the only furniture design student in my entire batch, so I didn’t have any regular classes, so to speak. Instead, I learned everywhere and in every way. I had discussions with faculty in the staff room, took courses in other departments. I was over enthusiastic and relentlessly pursued my teachers! That is how I developed my deep understanding of different types of materials. In fact, funnily, I won the Charles Eames scholarship at NID, not for furniture design, but for my work in ceramics!
What makes AKFD designs unique?
Our integrity. Every design at AKFD is real and honest. We don’t treat the underside of a chair any different from the top that everyone sees. Our credo is “Never more than necessary, never less than beautiful”. Whatever we make has to be something that people can imagine living with. We consciously try to remove the ‘designer’s hand’ from a product, as its functionality should last beyond the brand name.
Sustainability is integral to AKFD’s philosophy. What does that mean?
Sustainability is something you can do today, tomorrow and forever, without impacting the environment. The only way a product is sustainable, is if the person who bought it connects with it emotionally. If you don’t relate to something in your home, how long will you keep it and treasure it? That’s why, we design simple products that people can relate to.
What is it that makes you so passionate about handmade products?
For us, “handmade” is just the obvious choice. It ensures that we are being honorable and responsible towards our incredible artisans. In India, we have people with great skills and workmanship easily available, at very affordable prices. So then why should we use machines to create furniture? When we don’t appreciate something, it goes away. Artisans have to be respected, and their livelihood has to be sustained, to keep their skills alive. That’s why, everything created at AKFD is handmade.
(The AKFD factory workspace in Jaipur, Rajsthan)
Whose work do you admire?
Kripal Singh Shekawat, the famous painter and ceramist, and Rajeev Sethi, world renowned designer and art curator. They both taught me to appreciate Indian art, and made me more aware of my sensibilities as an Indian. Also, Charles Eames, because of the breadth of his work. Even though his designs may be old world, they are seminal and so relevant to us.
(Ayush Kasliwal showcasing his work in design and craft to Prince Charles)
What is the one invention that defines your design philosophy?
The Abacus is a fascinating invention. It is so organized, has visual simplicity and the ability to do complex mind bending things in such a simple way. You wonder how something so unassuming can be a calculator! To me, the beads of an abacus are like rosary beads – they get more polished with use. This really defines the way we design every product at AKFD.
(Ayush Kasliwal with a few of his creations at AKFD)
What is your future vision for AKFD?
I want to give an Indian perspective to the way we live. Traditionally, we are not a furniture nation. I want to be able to design furniture for India that is modern, beautiful, indispensable and suited to the Indian way of life. I want AKFD to be the brand that people look for, when they want Indian design. And by design, I don’t just mean what you see on the outside; it’s not superficial. For me, design is the very soul of the creation. It’s everything.
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