Chandra Shekhar Shaha- Exploring a master’s mind

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by Rummana Ferdous Fagun

Every one has a story and Chandra Shekhar Shaha is one such person whose story is worth a mention. Art, culture, fashion and tradition vary from country to country and they define a country in its distinct way. Chandra Shekhar Shaha is someone who has taken the effort to take the country to new heights with his contributions in the art and culture sector. It is people like him who carry the tradition forward by keeping the arts of the past generations alive and incorporating them with the present trends.

He is the forerunner who has taken it upon himself to bring about a revolution in Bangladesh, a person dedicated to the nurtureing of all kinds of crafts in the country. He is simultaneously a fashion expert, entrepreneur, writer and craft conservationist.

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Crafts are a part of a country’s identity. As Aarong’s founding designer and the current president of National Crafts Council of Bangladesh, he has been working relentlessly to invigorate the Bengali traditional crafts which are getting lost in the blackhole of time. ‘Despite having minimal resources and opportunities, the rural craftsmen are producing fabrics and handicrafts of such great quality. Why can’t we (designers) do the same with so much privilege?’ asks Shaha.

Clothes are one of the ways of showcasing the traditions and culture of a country. There was a time when rural artisans were valued greatly for their unique work and enriched style. With time, they have been undermined due to what can only be described as multi-cultural infiltration.

 

557955_267353686699681_1233848773_nThe socio-cultural impact of independence played a role here. He explained that people did not change overnight after independence whether it is their eating habit, their lifestyle or their mentality. They were fashion conscious even before independence but their source of inspiration changed after Bangladesh gained independence.

His understanding of the gradual changes in the fashion industry of this country is deep and vast. During the 60’s and 70’s, people’s fashion choice was inspired by Pakistani, English and Indian- Bengali movies. People preffered to make their own clothes at home but the cuts and designs were inspired by mass culture. After independence, there was no time to think about fashion, because there was a country to build. Hence, there was no collective effort behind building a fashion industry but slowly individual efforts started taking shape in the form of organizations such as Karika, Sheturi, Aarong, Rupayan and more.

The designer recalled the time when fashion magazines were first introduced in the country. Although circulation was scant, they still had a readership and people started getting their inspiration from the attires worn by the models. Then came Hindi movies and satellite TV, which opened the society to a whole new world. He strongly believes that with the passage of time the attires are becoming more multi-conceptual and losing its cultural individuality.

He lamented that there isn’t much collaboration between all the designers in this country which leads to an anomaly in culture and fashion. Even something as universal as a dress size is not standardized in Bangladesh. Individual fashion houses have their own standard for sizes rather than a standardized one. However, one thing to remember here is that it hasn’t even been five decades since our independence, which isn’t nearly enough for a country to reach global standards. He is hopeful because Bangladesh is slowly finding its path and people are becoming more fashion conscious.

Though, he did not plan to become a fashion designer he had a knack for arts and crafts.Chandra Shekhar joined Aarong during its inception in February, 1981. He had an eye for the unique and the beautiful along with an ability to ensemble the two in his work, something he owes his mother to.

Along with his contribution in the fashion industry he has worked for the conservation of local crafts as well. If you visit his office you will see earthen dolls, rag dolls, wooden toys and show pieces of all kinds. He is in constant hunt for crafts worth preserving. That is where the inspiration for his book ‘Sandesher Olongkrito Chhanch’ comes from. The subtext of the title explains the book perfectly : ‘Ornamented Terracotta and Stone Moulds from Bangladesh; Traditional Motifs: 1000 Possibilities’. The book was launched on February 04, 2017 at the Bangladesh National Museum; along with a fashionshow showcasing ten attires made by the ten fashion houses of Deshi Dosh using motifs made from earthen dices used for making cakes and shondesh.

He also tried to excavate the treasures hidden in the hands of the rural potters. Due to lack of appreciation the pottery industry is on a downward spiral. To bring this to people’s attention ‘Terracotta Fair and Exhibition 2017’ was held between February 10 and February 18 February at the Bangladesh National Museum. Here the earthen wares made by 20 of the artisans from Mithapur and Jamalpur were exhibited, the designs fusing the traditional with the contemporary.

Following the same passion of cherishing Bangladeshi culture he is currently endeavouring to create an encyclopedia or a collection of all kinds of handicrafts that have existed in Bangladesh till now. Shaha finds all this inspiration mainly from two things; nature and people. Since the beginning of time, people have been leaving their mark on this earth and there are always new things you can learn from the old. The challenge is to be influenced by others yet not to be engulfed by that influence. One thing that he avoids in his work and life is sitting around thinking that there isn’t enough resources or enough opportunities for him; resources are to be made and paths have to be paved.

When he joined Aarong at its infancy, his designs showed that modernism can be embraced without distorting the culture. After a long and fruitful journey of twenty years, he left Aarong in 2001. Then he joined the National Crafts Council of Bangladesh. He has also been working for various organizations and is working as a consultant for Nogordola, Nipun, Nittya Upohar, Anjan’s, Rang and Prabartona. Along with that, he is working with the SME Foundation to help entrepreneurs who need training and don’t have proper resources or knowledge of business expansion.

From the very start he always followed his heart without giving way to fear. The multi talented  designer tries to bring out designs from everything that catches his eyes. As someone dedicated to his art, he has gifted this country with not only new innovations in fashion but with a new way of thinking.

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