I was introduced to the philosophy of wabi-sabi by one of my professors from Architecture school. We were studying town planning for a small village outside Mumbai. I had come up with what I thought was a beautiful outdoor communal space. When I shared my drawings with the professor, he blankly stared at the layout for a minute, then at me and said, don't you think this layout is too sterile for what we want to achieve here? He then went on to tell a story that I would never forget. Sen no Rikyū's, a historical figure in Japanese tea culture, was asked to clean his master's garden. First, he raked until the ground was immaculate, then in a gesture that was almost second nature to his knowledge of wabi-sabi, he shook a tree trunk, causing a few leaves to fall. Wabi-sabi is clean but never too clean or sterile.
And just like that, I was hooked to the idea of wabi-sabi. I spent weeks reading about it and internalizing it. I soon realized it was more than just space planning and beautiful objects, but a pearl of wisdom that could help us come to terms with our supposed shortcoming and make peace with our impermanence.
This wisdom lived with me for several years. It engulfed me, and I soon started creating objects to share this wisdom with others.
Like every person on this planet, I have dealt with my own set of insecurities. I still do. Each collection that comes out of me, out of my studio, is a way of healing. Before are two examples of how my dilemmas and things around me lead to what I created.
In 2019, I accidentally sliced open my palm while carving. The scar was deep and painful. It took several months to heal. My husband would often find me looking at it, touching it. Then one day, he said, "This scar is beautiful. It's part of your story. It says that you did something scary, and you survived." And it soon gave birth to my very first collection- 'Your scars are beautiful.' For this collection, I used several scarred, spalted, and imperfect woodblocks to create something meaningful.
Your scars are reminders that you are alive.
2020 and 2021 broke us. We all got damaged in some or another way. My home country, India, was struggling. I wanted this to create a body of work that talked about the broken elements in us and show that they cannot bog us down. Instead, they will turn into our strength and kept us going. And 'Not whole, but complete' was born. Rather than being abandoned and lamented for its flaws, an object becomes more loved than ever. Its fractures and defects become its strength.
So many of us look at wabi-sabi as a design trend, but that's missing the immense wisdom this philosophy has to offer. It is precisely about the delicate balance between the pleasure we get from things and the pleasure we get from freedom from things.