by Anushka SharmaAug 18, 2023
Bangalore-based studio SFDW has been working to bring back the ancient form of Bidriware to contemporary craft. An art form rooted in Persian, Turkish and Arabic culture, Bidriware traces its origins to 700 years ago, as it started in Bidar, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, with the explorations of a Persian alchemist, Abdullah Bin Qaiser. The metal craft practice was first introduced in the subcontinent through the Deccan region of India.
The most intriguing yet challenging aspect of reviving this craft is replicating the process of oxidation for the metal. Bidriware is an alloy comprising copper and zinc in a 16:1 ratio. The process of oxidising it requires a unique and rare mud found only in the unbuilt areas of the Bidar Fort. The mud renders the deep black tone to the alloy without affecting the silver, gold or copper inlay work.
Given that the mud used to oxidise the alloy is one of its kind, the availability of the resource is finite and there is a fear of this craft dying out. Describing their initial interest in the craft, Saif Faisal of SFDW says, “What drew us to the craft was a conversation I had with Patricia Urquiola in 2015 in Delhi about crafts and contemporary design. Contemporary explorations with crafts in India was and still is to a great extent very sad. There is a huge lack of innovation and update that is essential for successful transition of these skills in the modern world”.
Bidriware first gained international recognition when it was exhibited at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, and Universal Exposition in Paris in 1855. Today, the Bidriware pieces are in the collections of The Louvre, Victoria & Albert, and The Met among other museums and private collections.
One of the series designed by Saif Faisal Design Workshop (SFDW), Qaiser, featuring the Bidriware metal, has won prestigious honours like the Elle Deco International Design Awards Furniture (EDIDA) in 2017 and the LEXUS Design Awards in 2018.
SFDW has embraced an innovative technique where the alloy masks the CNC cut negative patterns with heat resistant laminate, allowing only the exposed areas to be oxidised and leaving the masked areas to shine. This technique marks a significant departure to how the craft was practiced years ago, bringing contemporary solutions to the process.
The studio’s work with Bidriware is highlighted in their recent ‘Mirage’ series as well. The series takes inspiration from the fluid forms of nature – the sand dunes in the desert and the ripples of sea waves. The traditional craft techniques weren’t sufficient to achieve the kind of lines that this series exhibits, hence special tools were provided to the artisans to ensure the final product is perfect.
The Mirage series took over two years’ worth of work by a father-son craftsmen duo, who are the only two people who possess the meticulous skill of this craft.
The studio’s future with the craft includes a new collection - Alhambra - for Swedish brand KATHA that works with various crafts around the world. It draws inspiration from the rich traditions of the vast and expansive Moorish architecture from Spain and Morocco in the west to as far as Mongolia and western China in the East. Although there are diverse styles within Moorish architecture, the series emphasises on the consistent dome structures and the intricate geometric details of the compositions.
(Text by Shreeparna Chatterjee, editorial trainee at stirworld.com)