Yuriko interviews Rajeev Sethi.
(Graphic & Designer)
By Yuriko Lochan
I called upon Mr. Rajeev Sethi, an eminent scenographer and designer who travels to all corners of the world and remains involved in various important design projects in different corners of the globe. His office is situated in a residential area in the central part of South Delhi, behind a well-known shopping centre that has been recently enlivened by the influx of the arrival of increasingly more European and American specialty shops. We had been fostering our friendship for some years and I had the opportunity to assist him with his exhibition at the National Mall in Washington DC which he had designed for the Silk Road Festival, where I had helped him to create some of the exhibits. He was considerate enough to accommodate me with my request for an interview although he was extremely busy.
His office is located in a residential habitat and aptly illustrates his philosophy of using natural materials with a sense of generosity. The Library houses a collection of books on Asian design and architecture along with a collection of antique textile tastefully collected by Mr. Sethi himself. He is always stylishly clad in a loosely fitted Khadi garb which is made of hand spun and hand woven arborous cotton. His exhibition designs and his designs of interiors amply reveal his deep rooted association with the traditional art forms of the country so does his personal attire. He is therefore also committed to the improvement of the social status of the Indian craftsmen and the crafts that they create.
“I suppose you could say that my first project dates back to my childhood. The occasion was a festival celebrating the birth of Krishna, when children build a model of the village inhabited by Krishna called Jhanki, in one corner of the neighborhood. As a student, I had an opportunity to create a stage set for a dance performance, which was the fusion of the Indian traditional dance Kathak and Flamenco of Spain. Later, I discovered my interest in painting and received a scholarship to study graphic art at Paris. Subsequently, I worked at the studio of Pierre Cardin; however there came a time when I felt a certain emptiness towards the world of design. And it was chance that I came into contact with Mrs. Kamla Devi Chattopadhyay, the key person who had contributed towards reclaiming the value of Indian traditional art and crafts during the independence movement in India. I was compelled to wonder where does contemporary India exists. I questioned India’s design and craft trends which were completely following the examples set by European and American concepts and invariably sought to copy them. I wanted to discover what represents real India of our present times”.
The Exhibition “Aditi”, hosted by the Indian Government, exhibited over 2000 objects of arts and crafts, which ranged from the ancient to our times. It was an extremely ambitious project undertaken which involved around 40 village craftsmen and musicians who transformed exhibition spaces in New York and United Kingdom into replicas of Indian village scenes creating a similar ambiance. The event gained immense popularity and was acclaimed for its appeal.
An exhibition “Golden Eye” held in New York paid tribute to the craftsmen of India at the International level. The project incorporated traditional crafting skills which usually tend to be only valued as casual work and sought to promote those items that have a commercial potential. This unique consciousness and characteristics of the Indian craftsmen was consciously paired with internationally renowned designers. Sethi stressed the point that both the traditional craftsmen and the famous designers develop an environment of mutual respect regardless of their status.
Named after a village in the province of Orissa, “Dongar” was another project which was a collaboration between modern artists with traditional craftsmen whose skills have been passed down to them through generations. For the artists touched by the innocent sensibilities of the villagers, the encounter must have served as a rediscovery of India and indeed of mankind itself. For the villagers, who were inspired by the artists, it was a good opportunity to reaffirm the importance of their own skills. In the evening, the villagers played their drums and they all sang and danced together. It was then that they realized that tradition is not something to be restricted to a small, provisional scale, but rather, should be open and adaptable and that entertainment is also a form of art; at the origin, they were all one.
In India craftsmen still have a difficult life and nearly all of them lack assurances of their livelihood. Moreover, there is still a prevalent tendency to look condescendingly down upon craftsmen. Rajeev has organized a non-profit body called “SARTHI” that comprises of craftsmen and is endeavoring to improve the living conditions, health, education, skills, affluence, and marketing of India’s crafts.
Mr. Rajeev Sethi: specialized in History at college; received a scholarship from the Indian and French Governments and studied graphic art in Paris; later worked at Pierre Cardin’s studio for three years and returned to India in 1972. During the last 30 years, he has been noted internationally for his consistent contribution in presenting and celebrating Asia’s cultural heritage.
Mrs. Yuriko Lochan, an Artist born in Osaka in 1962, completed her undergraduate studies and obtained a Masters Degree in painting at the Faculty of Fine Art, Kyoto City University of Arts. She is a practicing artist and has been residing in India for the last 15 years after her marriage to an Indian artist.