Crafting a National Identity in an International Market

19 April 2024 -

Crafting a National Identity in an International Market: Local in Global

Design has a complex relationship with its place of origin. As tradition meets the contemporary, the unique furniture being designed and made in India for the local and global markets celebrates artisanship as well as experimentation. As part of the process of globalisation, local happenings are being shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice-versa. This market, which until now was hegemonised by the West is accessible to them as result of globalisation. Having a perspective on the rest of the design world has also allowed designers in India to understand how craft has been used in limited-edition furniture elsewhere. This gives them an edge in their own designs as it allows them to use craft traditions that are exclusive to India whilst at the same time being aware of what is prevalent globally.

It is important to understand why globalisation is significant in design. Designers in India are entrusted with increasingly complex and impactful challenges. While on the one hand, they use craft traditions to make their objects unique and with an Indian identity, on the other, they must also reflect a global awareness in their work. P. K. Jena observes, ‘globalisation has put both east and west into one compartment and makes a single village—a global village.’(1) However, what is understood as local depends on context. It is contingent on the relationship between a particular social space and the larger matrix of power and cultural relations in which it is embedded. Leo Ching corroborates this, stating that ‘it is widely agreed that while there is no such thing as a global culture, there is indeed a globalisation of culture’.(2) This globalisation of culture is fundamental to the design objects being produced in India and the market for them. The visual appearance of these unique Indian objects raises the question of whether, despite globalisation, a craft-oriented Indian identity has been retained, or whether globalisation has made it a universal one?

It is critical to understand the rationale behind transforming a traditional object that has survived hundreds of years to make it contemporary. One explanation is that designers are exploring the multifarious forces at work in the construction of an Indian identity.

The Dumroo stool (Fig. 01) uses an almost obsolete craft tradition of throne wrapping. This stool is the contemporising of a common everyday object that is ubiquitous in India, seen in the visual depiction of Indian mythology and used by Indian street performers and folk dancers (Fig. 02).

Despite the use of gold leaf, the Dumroo is a reinterpretation of tradition in a minimalist style. However, the market it sells in is the niche limited-edition market because it is an expensive object, primarily because of the materials it uses and the fact that each one is handcrafted. An object such as this is quintessentially Indian in its inherent identity, but having been emptied it of its classical typology, it just as easily fits into the international mould.

Visually, this table (Fig. 03) has a contemporary and modern aesthetic. It is minimalistic despite the richness of the material which, in traditional usage, lends itself to ornate and detailed moulding that shows off the metal. The brass and wooden detailing that are visible in this piece are stripped of decoration or ornamentation and simple in their approach. This is quite a departure from the brass workmanship that Indian craft objects until now have been recognised for, both within India and internationally (Fig. 04). These objects are quintessential examples of local solutions for a global market, and the advantages that designers in India have because of its cultural assets, especially its craft traditions.

The exchange and cross-fertilisation between wide-ranging cultures throughout history has had an effect on the nations involved. One can speculate that the homogenising effect of globalisation on national cultures in fact tends to produce a reaction among indigenous peoples. Despite these effects, some argue that globalisation can also reinforce local cultures, as can be seen in the images. The idea of the world being one is a challenge for designers in India. They have to design faced with the dichotomy of deep-seated tradition
and recent modernity. They need to use craft not merely as a reminder of past glory but as a dynamic force to accelerate economic development. At the same time, care needs to be taken that innovation should not root out ones origins. They are trying to develop an Indian design language that is based on a greater understanding and appreciation of a national identity, while grasping with the nuances of the international design language. They have been able to bring furniture and craft into a single narrative, and instead of global culture replacing local culture, it goes hand in hand with the latter.


(1) Pradeep Kumar Jena, ‘Indian handicrafts in globalization times: an analysis of global-local dynamics.’ Center for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi, December 2010, p.121
(2) Leo Ching, ‘Globalizing the Regional, Regionalizing the Global: Mass Culture and Asianism in the Age of Late Capital’ in Arjun Appadurai, Globalization, London: Duke University Press, 2001, p.293


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