Volume 2 Issue 32 | April 26 , 2008 |


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From the Insight Desk

A Pioneer in Design

Rafi Hossain

Star Insight generally covers on people from districts other than Dhaka. Regardless of how much we love our country and how much we believe in its potential for growth, we still value foreign products more than local ones. Even many of those seen as 'progressive' don't seem to recognize the quality of Bangladeshi talent.

Brac's Aarong has played a pioneering role in promoting the fashion industry of Bangladesh. Before Aarong, there were not many boutiques. Aarong has given a professional look to Bangladeshi crafts and has presented it to not only to Bangladeshis but to the rest of the world. Among the many people who have contributed to the success of Aarong, a notable one is Chandra Shekhar Shaha, ex-Chief Designer of Aarong. He has roamed the whole country in search of traditional designs and motifs.

Insight has been in contact with Chandra Shekhar for some time now, discussing his long journey so far and his future plans.

Star Insight: You have been in this industry for so long. Did you ever feel the need to establish your own brand?
Chandra Shekhar Shaha: Frankly speaking, I believe in collective work. I want to spread my ideas to others around me. Individually, my name would definitely be better known, but through collective work I have achieved much more. My work has spread to thousands and has transpired from my own generation to the current one. I do not look at this as a hurdle race; it's rather a journey to me where I am always learning and will continue to do so as long as I work in this industry. A plan that is realized through proper teamwork goes miles beyond what just one person could do.

SI: You have developed products of so many sorts in different medium, from handloom to crafts. Do you feel that specialization would be more efficient?
CS: Of course, specialization is generally good. But to me, learning is a continuous process and my experience in working with different media made me an avid student. I am still learning. I really enjoy working with different media simultaneously, and I feel that everyone's creativity can come out only when he experiences different forms of art. When a person gathers enough experience to build a clear aesthetic sense, and learns to appreciate and understand many different art forms, he can create his own. I believe that whatever I have achieved in my life has only been possible because of my diversified experiences. I believe these experiences of mine complement each other. My thought process has become easy and I can play with many forms of arts and crafts. The purity of the mind is very important. Whatever you initiate, I believe that if your mind is pure, the endeavour will eventually be productive.

SI: How do you feel about the replication of art forms?
CS: I feel that it is more important to inspire, rather than to replicate. Someone can find beauty in a traditional art form, but what is important is how it is received. Am I inspired by it? How I use this inspiration depends on how I look at it. Taking the right thing in a wrong way may very well have an opposite effect.

SI: Since there are many duplications nowadays, do you feel that observing too much may be bad as well?
CS: No, I don't think so. Art is created by the amalgamation of technology, skill and emotion. A thing can be observed and transformed in many ways. Merging the usual with the unusual is innovation. If these three vital components are there inside one's thoughts, then no amount of observation is bad.

SI: Do you think artists in general devote this much thought into their work?
CS: That I really cannot say, but believe this is the way true art is created. I can guarantee that spending time behind thinking about these three vital ingredients is in no way a loss for an artist. There are no shortcuts to create any art form.

SI: What inspired you to publish “Behind Products: A Study on Crafts of Bangladesh”?
CS: If you look around, you will find many necessities of daily life which has been developed over generations of designing and redesigning. Once upon a time, the designers of such usual items were referred to as master craftsman, since there creations had both aesthetic and functional value. And this inspired me to create a book about them. I want to research and collect such designs from all over Bangladesh.

SI: It is so exciting that you have made such an interesting book about such ordinary items. But has it been properly publicized? Do the people know about its existence?
CS: No, there definitely has not been enough publicity. But it isn't possible to take care of such marketing details; creating such a research-oriented book was quite laborious. Proper publicity is the media's responsibility. The book has been written jointly with Masrur Mamun Mithun, without whose contribution the book would be impossible to make.

SI: Do you feel that Bangladeshi designs have made any mark in the globe? Do you feel that we have made a place for ourselves?
CS: Certainly not yet. The matter is not as simple as your question. Making a place in this arena is extremely difficult and complicated. We do not even have a proper design institute in the country. Some small institutes have been created through individual attempts, BGMEA is there. All this time, the ready made garments sector has operated using material and designs approved by buyers.

No innovation or local design has been made. But recently, the foreign buyers are requesting a few big firms to innovate the designs by adding a local flavor. With more design opportunities like these, our place will surely be created in the globalized world. We need more time, as we are still young in that respect. But I am hopeful about it. I have seen how much talent Bangladesh has, and through proper guidance and right opportunities, we will make a place for ourselves in the near future.

SI: Do you feel that this process is becoming too lengthy or time consuming?
CS: Proper appreciation and encouragement is very important. If an able man faces continuous disapproval or rejection, he will start to believe that he is useless. So, we should be positive and think positive.

SI: So, you are very hopeful?
CS: I believe wholeheartedly, that we live in a world of opportunity. There are so many fields left unexplored in our country, the exploration of which will ensure more scope for us to create and make our place in the world.

Chandra Shekhar Shaha

Born on April 2, 1955, Chandra Shekhar Shaha received his Secondary School Certificate from Chittagong Government Collegiate School (1971). After obtaining his pre-degree Certificate from Chittagong Art College (1976), he completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Dhaka Arts and Crafts College (Fine Arts Institute, Dhaka University), 1981, securing Second Class First position. Eventually, he went off to National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, Gujrat, India for an Advanced Training program on Textile Design from (1985-86).

He served as the Chief Designer of Aarong (Brac), where he was responsible for diversification of traditional arts and crafts to utility and handloom textile products. In that capacity, he established and developed the design studio, library and documentation department in Aarong. Worked on developing the Brand image of Aarong (Aarong was the first to establish a local brand name in Bangladesh) (since 1981). He has worked extensively in shaping trends in the traditional ready-to-wear textile market of Bangladesh. Since then, he has provided advisory and consultancy services to Kay Kraft, Bishad Bangla, Aranya Craft, Prabartana, Grameen Bank Project (Grameen Uddog), Dressy Dale and has provided Graphic Design Consultancy Service for advertising and publication at Communican's. He has also provided short-term consultancy services at German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), and worked as Senior Designer at Design and Technology Centre (DTC).

He has participated in workshops, seminars, symposiums and international fairs on various occasions in India, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Laos, U.S.A, Canada, England, and Germany and has gained substantial experience in product development. He has also been a member of the Executive Committee of Bangladesh National Crafts Council. His various exhibition projects include Jamdani, Nakshi Katha, Khadi, Tangail Textiles, Handloom Textiles & Art of Bangladesh and Printed Textiles.

Additionally, he has coordinated several design related educational workshops for textile and craft sector; coordinated clientele project regarding product development for export market; and coordinated Hatil Furniture Design Competition 2004.

Currently he is involved in offering freelance advisory and consultancy services to research projects, textile and craft design development, design workshop, exhibition design; coordinating survey projects in different fields. He is a consultant for planning, designing and product development for 'Nogordola Project' of Dhaka Ahsania Mission. He is providing design consultancy service at Bain Textile (Chakma Traditional Textile Entrepreneurs, Chittagong Hill Tract. He is a design and product development consultant for Aarong's 30 years Anniversary Project and for “Asia Investment Project on Design and Diversification” project of Bangladesh Women's Chamber. He is a part-time consultant at Design and Technology Centre (DTC) and at ECOTA Fair Trade Forum. He is providing Product Development Advisory Service at NRDS (Noakhali) about traditional craft. He is also one of the current advisors of Nipun Crafts Limited, and of Gandhi Khadi Trust, Noakhali.

Moreover, he is a part-time faculty (fashion design) at Shanto Mariam University of Creative Technology, Dhaka and at Dept. of Architecture, North South University, Dhaka.

He envisions the setting up and development of a design institute at national level in Bangladesh to facilitate creation and development of professional designers in order to expand the scope of traditional textile and craft industry of the country, with the ultimate goal of introducing the domestic market of Bangladeshi products to the international market. He wishes to develop intermediate technology to provide technical know-how to the traditional artisans, and revive, document and preserve indigenous motifs related to the heritage of Bangladesh. He intends to conduct further research about design and traditional product-textile, crafts and tribal ethnic product across Bangladesh. In the long-run, he wishes to set up a crafts museum with a view to preserve the crafts of the country.

* Behind Product, a traditional Bangladeshi craft related research document, cooperation with German Technical Cooperation (GTZ), published by Design and Technology Centre (DTC). , Co-author Mashur Mamun Mithun
* ECOTA Member's Organizations Portfolio, 2006.
* Product Catalogue for Export, PHISHA-LONSHA of Shilleikon, 2004.
* Product Catalogue for Export, Dhaka Handicraft, 2004.


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