Bridging the Chasm

Bridging the Chasm

Aradhana Nagpal traces the arc of thought behind the JSW Prize for Contemporary Craftsmanship and introduces some of the finest artisanal initiatives in the country.

The winner of the JSW Prize for Contemporary Craftsmanship was Heirloom Naga

The winner of the JSW Prize for Contemporary Craftsmanship was Heirloom Naga. Seen at the felicitation function are Aradhana Nagpal, Maximiliano Modesti, Rajeev Sethi, Jesmina Zeliang of Heirloom Naga, Sanjib Chatterjee, Tarini Jindal Handa, Herve Van Der Straeten, Sangita Jindal, Alex Kuruvilla and Ashiesh Shah.

When I was first approached by Sangita Jindal to curate the JSW Prize for Contemporary Craftsmanship (2019), I was only too willing. It was clear to me that I would not find a more genuine force backing an initiative such as this!

The JSW Prize for Contemporary Craftsmanship is a coming together of Jindal’s deep-rooted passion for art and craft and her commitment to preserving Indian artisanal culture. Inspired by Europe’s LOEWE Craft Prize, she formulated the idea of a craftsperson-oriented award in collaboration with Architectural Digest (AD). This unique initiative hopes to bridge the gap between art and craft, and seeks out individual master craftspersons, private social enterprises, institutions or even entire villages that are creating outstanding designs using traditional craft skills. The intention of the award is simple: it seeks to celebrate artisans and their intense relationship with innovative ideas, materials and objects.

A work by Commitment to Kashmir artisans.

While we did receive some nominations from the advisory board, we also set up a website ( and opened up the application process. With 74 applications online and 29 recommendations from the advisory board we made a preliminary shortlist for the first jury meeting in Mumbai which was held in August. A contemporary design sensibility and a world-class quality were the main criteria while selecting the winner. The empowerment of Karigars, the preservation of craft forms, the longevity of projects and the support to regional craft cultures were also crucial when casting the vote. 

Interestingly, we had three entries from Kashmir, two of which made it to the shortlist. There was Commitment to Kashmir that supports crewel embroidery, wood-carving, papier mache, among other initiatives, and has established almost 30 craft-based enterprises, created over 600 new products, and revived languishing art skills over the last eight years. The organization is led by Padma Shri awardees Gulshan Nanda and Laila Tyabji. The second was Fayaz Ahmad Jan, a papier mache artisan hailing from Hassnabad district in Srinagar who was recently awarded the Padma Shri for his work in handicrafts and papier mache. Fayaz has been exploring papier mache for over 35 years and has participated in various workshops all over the world.

Jeevaram Suthar and Poonaram Suthar, the two carpenter protégés of architect Bijoy Jain, were strongly recommended by some members of the jury. They have spent the last 25 years working with architects and designers at their workshops in the village of Chondi in Alibaug and their style is marked by elegance, functionality and precision. Tushar Kumar has more than 25 years experience in exploring design, especially in the field of textiles. He has explored silk in Benaras and natural shibori in Bangladesh. He is now working with Cashmere and producing a range of fine felted material with extraordinary softness, lightness and warmth.

And finally, Heirloom Naga, the winner of the JSW Prize for Contemporary Craftsmanship 2019! Spearheading Heirloom Naga is Jesmina Zeliang who specializes in textiles woven on the backstrap loom since the last 25 years. Starting with just three women in her backyard, Heirloom Naga has provided employment and empowerment to more than 400 local women and taken cutting-edge designs to some of the chic boutiques across the world. Says Jesmina, “I look at myself as a bridge between the maker and the market, who has put Made In Nagaland products on the global map, while providing a sustainable livelihood to weavers, who are so incredibly talented that they are able to translate my oral instructions onto woven cloth.” She was felicitated during the AD Design Show on the 18th of October by members of the jury.


The Longpi Pottery stall

The Longpi Pottery stall at the Power to the Karigar section of the AD Design Show, Mumbai. 2019.
Images courtesy of Camera Crew Productions and Architectural Digest India.

JSW’s vision involves exploring the tremendous economic potential craft forms have – by supporting and celebrating great craftsmanship and world-class design, and presenting the Karigars as the main beneficiaries. The JSW Prize is only the beginning of this effort – it aims to recognize the genius of India’s craftspersons, push traditional craft forms to enter into new equations with the contemporary, and bridge the chasm between the two.