Indigenous by heART

Manasa Prithvi of Ira Studio expresses her strong affinity for traditional crafts and future plans, in an interview with NISHA SHUKLA

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Interior product designer Manasa Prithvi had a strong inclination for art, craft and design from early on. Passionate about her roots – India, Manasa grew up surrounded by the rich heritage of Indian crafts and arts, developing a deep appreciation for their unparalleled creativity and indigenous nature. With a view of reviving the traditional crafts which are slowly dwindling and becoming victims of cheap imitations, Prithvi decided to set up her own practice – Ira Studio which she founded in the year 2013. The studio firmly believes in making exclusive interior products that weave understated luxury, traditional craftsmanship and timeless contemporary designs by using natural resources such as brass, copper and wood to create unique one-of-a-kind products.

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The designer has not only managed to revive the charm of handcrafted products in India, but has also received an overwhelming response for her products (Tekku Stools and Madras Trays) which she had showcased at London Design Festival in 2015.  Her recent achievements include being featured in the book Sār: The Essence of Indian Design – which explores and celebrates India’s ingenious and indigenous everyday Indian objects – innovations of yesterday.

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Design Journey

After completing her graduation in fine arts, Prithvi worked for about two years in an interior design company in Chennai which gave her clear vision as to what she wanted to do. Over a period of time, Prithvi felt her growth being stagnated in Chennai and with an urge to explore the field further, she went to London to pursue MA in product design and whilst doing the course she discovered her passion for Indian crafts. Even for her final year project, the designer made few products using traditional techniques and exhibited them under the name of Ira Studio. After having sold most of them in London, Prithvi returned to India and officially decided to set up her studio.

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Design Inspiration

Talking about the source of inspiration behind her products, “I seek inspiration from everywhere. It could be from nature, vintage crafted objects or textiles. Sometimes even from everyday life and street culture. I mainly draw inspiration outside my own field, and look into the spaces of other creative disciplines such as fashion, architecture, literature and art. A large part of my inspiration comes from the crafts themselves through the designs or the processes.”  Besides this, Prithvi is also greatly inspired by the humble techniques that are used in traditional crafts, the imperfections borne out of the maker’s marks and the transient beauty that lies in the process of ageing. Apart from this, Prithvi also believes in having a strong visual language for her products. She defines her visual language as a blend of a pared down aesthetic of the richness of the Indian craft heritage which is combined with a minimal, contemporary design sense. In terms of visual language, Prithvi looks up to the works of Ilse Crawford, Bijoy Jain, Nipa Doshi, Ai WeiWei, Dayanita Singh, Le Corbusier, Tadao Ando and Sanjay Garg.

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The Minimalistic approach

A firm believer and practitioner of minimalism, Prithvi says, “For me minimalism is not just an aesthetic, but a lifestyle choice – quality over quantity, pursuing little and making the best out of it. In my work it’s about retaining the quiet warmth and focusing on the simple and subtle details and elements. It isn’t about taking a western concept and fusing it with traditional Indian crafts, but about subtracting the unnecessary to focus on details and processes.”

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She further stated that minimalism has been often misunderstood as a western concept whereas in the Indian context its traces could be found in the Khadi movement which witnessed the use of simple attires such as handloom sari or the white cotton dhoti, everyday objects crafted in metal and earthenware in villages and in some of the simpler traditional architectures. It is easy to assume that minimalism is not an Indian concept because of the colourful and the decorative aspects of the Indian designs are overpowering, which is often understood as Indian design.

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In terms of her products, the designer firmly believes in not compromising her vision and quality of materials. After working with natural materials like brass, wood and copper, the talented designer also aspires to experiment with stone for her future products. Apart from work, Prithvi loves travelling to places, reading books, watching good films and listening to music.

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As an advice to the design aspirants, Prithvi says that one must be original, authentic and patient and should always focus on improving their work instead of worrying about what their competitors are doing.  When asked about a notable change she wants to bring in the design industry, Prithvi says, “I hope the industry moves forward in producing more ethical, sustainable and eco-friendly products,” she signs off.

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