Moradabad lies 4 hours east of Delhi by road. Pulling into the city our driver Ramji asked if we knew that the metal trade in the city was closed on Tuesdays; Tuesdays were inauspicious for the trade.
“Business takes place as usual” continued Ramji, “for the rest of the week; except between the hours of noon and 2pm because the heat at this time makes it impossible to work. It’s not just the heat from outside, it’s also the heat of the molten metal inside the small workshop. It’s difficult to stand there even. You’ll see today.”
The heat of the casting workshop was overbearing. In less than ten minutes our shirts were clinging to our backs. Every single moment was worth it. The casters hardly acknowledged our presence in the room. It’s a common sight to see no footwear being worn – no slippers even. A first hand understanding is necessary and only grows deeper with more time spent in places like this. An understanding of routines and obstacles that are encountered as part of the everyday routine in Moradabad – rising temperatures and power shortages. We were captivated with the rhythm and ease with which the casters worked. I could understand why interventions for modernization were casually swept aside. Their expertise spoke of skills passed down from generations past. Knowledge that wasn’t to be reckoned with. Like it was only second nature to do what they did.
Hammering sheet metal like copper or brass by hand is a common process that was used originally to strengthen the metal object. Combinations of cast metal and beaten sheets were brazed together to form objects. The hammered effect is now mechanized in some parts of the world, distributed into the contemporary world as a decorative finish across a range of objects. Tom Dixon’s beat lamp series was made in Moradabad using this process.
The fascinating thing about Moradabad was how the related metal industries and workshops were symbiotic in their relationships with each other. A web of sand-casters on one side of the city, and workshops who finished the sand casted products on the other. These two resources were seldom under one roof making the whole system very dynamic and micro-managed. In a way, everyone could participate as small but valuable contributors. No one ever had nothing to do.
The scale of the production here renders the concepts of craft and ‘handmade’ with new meanings. What’s interesting for us is to explore these grey areas. What are the boundaries of craft and industrial production, especially in places like Moradabad, where vast numbers are produced? And what are the boundaries between utility and ornament in contexts such as India, where there is an attached utility in ornament as beauty and ritual?