Travellers Tales – Blueprints

Lavanya Mani

Kochi-Muziris Biennale

Kochi-Muziris Biennale
Fort Kochi, India

Lavanya Mani works predominantly with textiles and the various ‘traditions’ and techniques associated with textile painting, printing and embroidery in India. She is interested in correspondences between the worlds of textiles and text —manifest in expressions such as ‘to spin a yarn’, ‘to weave a tale’ or ‘to fabricate’— and their link to the construction of history, especially orientalist narratives about the East.

Mani’s exhibits at the Biennale are part of an ongoing series of paintings on cotton cloth called Travellers Tales – Blueprints (2014). The paintings evoke the sails of a ship and carry images through which the artist seeks to map the complex role that dyed and printed textiles played in the history of colonialism in India. They simultaneously draw our attention to historical processes that led to the emergence of ‘high art’ and ‘craft’ as categories defined in opposition to each other.

In creating the imagery these paintings carry, Mani used ‘Kalamkari’, a centuries-old textile painting technique from India that uses natural dyes. As the artist points out, the popularity of ‘Kalamkari’ (chintz) textiles in 17th-century Europe was such that French and English governments outlawed it to protect local mills. Inserted into the paintings are the texts of letters written by travellers to India that attempt to decode ‘Kalamkari’ and other techniques in order to replicate them back in Europe. Also used in these works is cyanotype, an early photographic medium which, when applied on cloth and exposed to light, produces blue colour, evocative of both the ocean and Indigo– a dye that was a coveted commodity in Indian Ocean trade and later colonial extractions from India.


  • Title: Travellers Tales – Blueprints
  • Creator: Lavanya Mani
  • Physical Dimensions: Dimensions variable
  • Medium: Natural dye, cyanotype and pigment paint on cotton fabric
  • Gallery: Aspinwall House, Fort Kochi
  • First Creator: 1977
  • Date of artwork's creation: 2014
  • Creator's practice: Vadodara, India.
  • Creator's date of birth: Hyderabad, India.

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