Arte Povera in India: The Craft of Bijoy Jain

Architectural firm Studio Mumbai has once again teamed up with MANIERA gallery in Brussels, this time creating a collection of strikingly beautiful furniture pieces that teach a lesson in economics and intercultural exchange


With Pierre Jeanneret’s Chandigarh chair being the ‘it’ item in Europe today, the Indian atmosphere is extending somewhat into Western homes, magazines and mood boards. Now there’s a possible successor, a Chandigarh 2.0 if you will. Although still a mix of east and west, it’s this time conceived by an Indian designer: Bijoy Jain.

From May 18th until August 24th at Brussels MANIERA gallery, architect Bijoy Jain of Studio Mumbai will exhibit a new furniture series, made up of beautiful wooden chairs, brick textures and tables made using the fresco technique. The work was commissioned by the gallery, whose first collaboration with Studio Mumbai in 2016 resulted in conceptual furniture pieces that ended up in the collections of SFMOMA (San Francisco), LACMA (Los Angeles) and Centre Pompidou (Paris).

The mannerisms of architects

MANIERA was founded in 2014 by Amaryllis Jacobs and Kwinten Lavigne, who both have a background in the arts: Jacobs was a a communications manager and Lavigne a production manager. Their goal with MANIERA is as easy as it is genius: to offer architects and contemporary art makers a segue into design. ‘We look for artists and architects with a very specific design language,’ Jacobs explains. ‘Nobody builds like OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen (known for their project Solo House) or Studio Mumbai, for instance. Their language is so clear you can almost pitch it in one line.’

By offering big names who all have signature styles  – think Anne Holtrop and Jonathan Muecke – a design playground, what you get is a set of very intuitive and unconventional design-art objects. These striking collections, all handmade in limited editions, rocketed MANIERA to an international level. But Jacobs also credits the gallery’s success, in part, to Design Miami, who contacted them within their first week, and The New York Times, where MANIERA was listed as one of the top five new design galleries in the world in 2016.

Indian crafts

MANIERA’s most successful artist is Bijoy Jain, hence this second collection. Jain founded his architectural practice Studio Mumbai in 2005 and has since become known for creating contemporary architecture from a craftsman’s point of view. ‘He’s an architect who simply knows how to make things, from windows to furniture,’ Jacobs says. ‘He is very craft-minded. When commissioned for a project, he searches for local craftsmen. The entire building, from brick to beam, is made in the vicinity.’ Palmyra House is a good example of Jain’s approach and style. Built in 2007 in Nandgaon, India, it consists of two beautifully crafted volumes set among palm trees on a coconut plantation. Inside, the sunlight filters through the wooden louvered walls and creates a staggering play of chiaroscuro.

The pièce de résistance in Jain’s first collection was Brick Study II, marble and artisanal red brick bench that clearly references architecture. His second collaboration with MANIERA also aligns with his architecture practice, in the form of furniture handmade with artisan materials. Take, for instance, Jain’s almost minimalist palisander and bamboo chairs. When asked about the design, Jain himself downsizes the discourse of the crafts he is so renowned for. ‘My starting point was to create a light and effective chair that can be economically produced,’ he explains. ‘And I mean economically in the sense of effective use of materials, energy and technology. These chairs can be put together without the need for any sophisticated machinery. Basically, they consist of bamboo and rope.

Arte Povera

 Materiality and handwork weren’t priorities for the architect, and neither was aesthetics. ‘I want the chairs to have a certain anonymity to them,’ Jain says. ‘The aesthetics are just a result of the search for an economy of means.’ His research, however, did lead to a visually striking set of chairs. Being so lean, fragile and natural, the chairs are almost Arte Povera. They are the primitivist’s version — or rather the ecologist’s version — of the Chandigarh chair. The seats are reduced to a minimum of weaving, the backs often bare. Stripped to their essence, they emanate an enormous poetic strength.

Apart from the wooden chairs, Jain has also designed fauteuils, stools, consoles, brick textures and tables, in materials that include bamboo, marble, sandstone, silk rope and washi paper. The collection contains design objects that are both functional as well as conceptual, and all reflect Studio Mumbai’s design language. At first sight, one would say it’s Indian – but at a second glance, it could be anything. Jain explains that he mixed Indian with Italian, Egyptian, Japanese and other influences. ‘I would call it hybrid design. My inspiration comes from literally everywhere, up to the point where it was hard to track the exact origin. When integrating different cultures, the location of the designer becomes irrelevant. I feel my designs could’ve been conceived anywhere in the world’.

Studio Mumbai’s collection will be exhibited at MANIERA Brussels from May 18th until August 24th 2019 at MANIERA Brussels, and with MANIERA at Design Miami/Basel in June.

Text / Ringo Gomez-Jorge
Images / Jeroen Verrecht

Bijoy Jain. Image courtesy of Studio Mumbai.

Bijoy Jain. Image courtesy of Studio Mumbai.