Art and life

Baskets, boats and bridges: An exhibition in Delhi showcased lives woven around bamboo

The exhibition featured the bamboo culture of the North Eastern states of India.

While growing up in Assam, Parasher Baruah realised that bamboo was ubiquitous. It grew in his backyard, appeared in his food, and was used for religious ceremonies at home.

This sturdy flowering plant has subsequently featured in much of the filmmaker-photographer’s work, as he travelled in and around the seven states that make up the North East of India. But it was only a few months ago that he was asked to look up photographs he has taken that specifically show bamboo in its various avatars.

Baruah’s photographs of bamboo being used to make baskets, bows and arrows, utensils, boats and even houses formed part of An Ode to Bamboo, a photography and art exhibit held in Delhi last week. It was part of a three-day art festival, ArtEast, curated by journalist and author Kishalay Bhattacharjee.

Through the photography of Baruah and that of environmental photographer and writer Arati Kumar Rao, An Ode to Bamboo highlighted the versatility of this treelike grass, by displaying the various forms it can take.

The colours of bamboo. (Photograph by Parasher Baruah).
The colours of bamboo. (Photograph by Parasher Baruah).

“While visualising the second edition of ArtEast, we wanted to imagine the [North East] region through a completely different lens,” said Bhattacharjee. “While searching for links between the seven states, so different from each other otherwise, we found that the most resilient and connecting thread was bamboo.”

The inspiration to base the exhibit on bamboo came from the works of MP Ranjan, who was a professor at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. Considered to be India’s design guru, he pioneered research work in bamboo. He died in 2015 at the age of 64. That one material could take so many forms was a driving force for him, and inspired several of his designs. In his 1986 book, titled Bamboo and Cane Crafts of North-East India, Ranjan wrote:

“Bamboo is so much a part of their lives that it is difficult to think of North-East without associating it with images of bamboo products and bamboo structures. In many tribes the umbilical cord of a new born child is cut with a bamboo knife and the dead are laid to rest on bamboo beds. Bamboo shoots are eaten either roasted or pickled. Rice is eaten in bamboo plates and carried in bamboo baskets and rice beer is drunk in bamboo mugs through bamboo drinking straws. Bamboo poles with trimmings symbolise religious commitment and are used as decorations on auspicious occasions. Surely the people of the North-East region can be said to have a bamboo culture.”

The headman of the Nyishi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh getting dressed in his bamboo house before a meeting. (Photograph by Arati Kumar Rao).
The headman of the Nyishi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh getting dressed in his bamboo house before a meeting. (Photograph by Arati Kumar Rao).

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has also recognised the value of bamboo. In his Budget speech on February 1, he called bamboo “green gold”, and allocated Rs 1,290 crores to promote the bamboo sector.

A bamboo bridge across the main stem of the Siang at Tuting, in Siang district, Arunachal Pradesh. (Photograph by Arati Kumar Rao).
A bamboo bridge across the main stem of the Siang at Tuting, in Siang district, Arunachal Pradesh. (Photograph by Arati Kumar Rao).

The photographs, paintings and artefacts in An Ode to Bamboo showcased bamboo as a way of bringing together livelihoods, design and sustainability, rather than just being a decorative object. “The brief was to not exoticise bamboo,” said Baruah. “The idea was to go beyond looking at bamboo as just a handicraft or souvenir for tourists but really show how it is ingrained into every aspect of lives of people living in the North East. From gambling to bridges to everyday things, bamboo is everywhere.”

For the exhibition, Baruah brought in baskets, small and big, made from bamboo, which are used everyday in the North East to transport a range of goods.

Ranjan’s book has an entire chapter dedicated to the various uses of these baskets, and the different techniques used to weave them. Ranjan wrote:

“Grain is carried from the fields to the village granaries, firewood is collected for fuel from the forest, water is carried in bamboo tubes placed inside a basket and fish caught from the streams are only some of the products carried in baskets. Occasionally one sees an infant perched on one of these baskets lung across the back.”

Owner of a basket-making shop in Shillong. (Photograph by Parasher Baruah).
Owner of a basket-making shop in Shillong. (Photograph by Parasher Baruah).

At the exhibition, a multimedia installation by Baruah focused on archery as it is practiced in Shillong, Meghalaya, where it is more about gambling than the sport. The installation had in place a padded bamboo target that was pierced by over 50 bamboo arrows.

The sport of archery gambling in Shillong. (Photograph by Parasher Baruah).
The sport of archery gambling in Shillong. (Photograph by Parasher Baruah).

Rao’s work at the exhibit documented the fishing communities of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh and their use of bamboo in almost all their tools – from the fishing boat and fish trap, to the mat on which the fish is dried.

Rao’s images are a testament to how this material, classified as both grass and tree, incorporates itself seamlessly into the lives of fisherfolk.

Fish caught by the Mishing community in Assam drying on mats made from bamboo. (Photograph by Arati Kumar Rao).
Fish caught by the Mishing community in Assam drying on mats made from bamboo. (Photograph by Arati Kumar Rao).

“When people migrate, the physical art gets lost in the process,” said Bhattacharjee. “The oral traditions like songs and stories remain, but the craft of the region suffers. So if the value of bamboo is not talked about, presented or reimagined for a modern audience, traditional wisdom will be lost forever.”

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The next Industrial Revolution is here – driven by the digitalization of manufacturing processes

Technologies such as Industry 4.0, IoT, robotics and Big Data analytics are transforming the manufacturing industry in a big way.

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This is substantiated by a PWC research which shows that across industries, the most innovative companies in the manufacturing sector grew 38% (2013 - 2016), about 11% year on year, while the least innovative manufacturers posted only a 10% growth over the same period.

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Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence and Big Data analytics are some of the key technologies powering Industry 4.0. According to a report, Industry 4.0 will prompt manufacturers globally to invest $267 billion in technologies like IoT by 2020. Investments in digitalization can lead to excellent returns. Companies that have implemented digitalization solutions have almost halved their manufacturing cycle time through more efficient use of their production lines. With a single line now able to produce more than double the number of product variants as three lines in the conventional model, end to end digitalization has led to an almost 20% jump in productivity.

Digitalization and the Indian manufacturing industry

The Make in India program aims to increase the contribution of the manufacturing industry to the country’s GDP from 16% to 25% by 2022. India’s manufacturing sector could also potentially touch $1 trillion by 2025. However, to achieve these goals and for the industry to reach its potential, it must overcome the several internal and external obstacles that impede its growth. These include competition from other Asian countries, infrastructural deficiencies and lack of skilled manpower.

There is a common sentiment across big manufacturers that India lacks the eco-system for making sophisticated components. According to FICCI’s report on the readiness of Indian manufacturing to adopt advanced manufacturing trends, only 10% of companies have adopted new technologies for manufacturing, while 80% plan to adopt the same by 2020. This indicates a significant gap between the potential and the reality of India’s manufacturing industry.

The ‘Make in India’ vision of positioning India as a global manufacturing hub requires the industry to adopt innovative technologies. Digitalization can give the Indian industry an impetus to deliver products and services that match global standards, thereby getting access to global markets.

The policy, thus far, has received a favourable response as global tech giants have either set up or are in the process of setting up hi-tech manufacturing plants in India. Siemens, for instance, is helping companies in India gain a competitive advantage by integrating industry-specific software applications that optimise performance across the entire value chain.

The Digital Enterprise is Siemens’ solution portfolio for the digitalization of industries. It comprises of powerful software and future-proof automation solutions for industries and companies of all sizes. For the discrete industries, the Digital Enterprise Suite offers software and hardware solutions to seamlessly integrate and digitalize their entire value chain – including suppliers – from product design to service, all based on one data model. The result of this is a perfect digital copy of the value chain: the digital twin. This enables companies to perform simulation, testing, and optimization in a completely virtual environment.

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Case studies for technology-led changes

An example of the implementation of digitalization solutions from Siemens can be seen in the case of pharma major Cipla Ltd’s Kurkumbh factory.

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In yet another example, technology provided by Siemens helped a cement plant maximise its production capacity. Wonder Cement, a greenfield project set up by RK Marbles in Rajasthan, needed an automated system to improve productivity. Siemens’ solution called CEMAT used actual plant data to make precise predictions for quality parameters which were previously manually entered by operators. As a result, production efficiency was increased and operators were also freed up to work on other critical tasks. Additionally, emissions and energy consumption were lowered – a significant achievement for a typically energy intensive cement plant.

In the case of automobile major, Mahindra & Mahindra, Siemens’ involvement involved digitalizing the whole product development system. Siemens has partnered with the manufacturer to provide a holistic solution across the entire value chain, from design and planning to engineering and execution. This includes design and software solutions for Product Lifecycle Management, Siemens Technology for Powertrain (STP) and Integrated Automation. For Powertrain, the solutions include SINUMERIK, SINAMICS, SIMOTICS and SIMATIC controls and drives, besides CNC and PLC-controlled machines linked via the Profinet interface.

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Siemens is using its global expertise to guide Indian industries through their digital transformation. With the right technologies in place, India can see a significant improvement in design and engineering, cutting product development time by as much as 30%. Besides, digital technologies driven by ‘Ingenuity for Life’ can help Indian manufacturers achieve energy efficiency and ensure variety and flexibility in their product offerings while maintaining quality.

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The above examples of successful implementation of digitalization are just some of the examples of ‘Ingenuity for Life’ in action. To learn more about Siemens’ push to digitalize India’s manufacturing sector, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Siemens by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.