Devi Art Foundation
In the 21st century, when new technological aids offer possibilities that were unimagined earlier, why does the handmade continue to remain valid across as vast a field as textiles? How does a celebrated legacy of historical hand- craftsmanship influence practitioners today? How does it provoke new conversations in the field? These and other questions lay at the heart of a three-year dialogue between a diverse group of creative professionals from within and outside the textile field, culminating in Fracture: Indian Textiles, New Conversations.
The projects and explorations presented here were conceived by practitioners working largely in urban contexts and formats. Among them are textile and fashion designers, textile craftspeople, graphic artists, and a film-maker. Nearly all are influenced by a certain universalism inherent in global pedagogies of art and design. Others create within an identifiably Indian ethos. Their works inquire into varying, and often elusive, meaning and manifestation of the traditional. These negotiations reflect the continuities with, and the departures from long, but more or less familiar, trajectories of Indian textile craftsmanship. This exhibition attempts to explore if historical vocabularies are monolithic and inert, and if shifts in material and visual language represent an inevitability born of artistic evolution.
Mayank Mansingh Kaul | Rahul Jain | Sanjay Garg
Paralleled in ancient Greek wisdom, the analogy of the twin can be extended to any plane: like the Vedic twin sisters, Usha and Ratri (day and night); or the vertices of a particular frame or a set of co-ordinates changing from one to another; 'cold things grow hot, a hot thing cold', 'a moist thing withers, a parched thing is wetted'.
The workmanship here revives a distinctive characteristic of India's historic metallic embroideries, which excelled in the massing of elements as closely as possible, to create continuous sheaths of metallic textures over fabric. The final effect is powerfully sculptural rather than decorative, the delicate, pliable purls and sequins coalescing into unyielding plaques of embossed and engraved metal.
The patterned fabric perfectly identifies Manish as an image-maker par excellence. It is just one aspect of his prodigal work that is known internationally for spectacular couture creations. It does place him firmly, however, within a select group of textile makers who question form and embellishment in traditional Indian textiles, and consider these as essential ingredients of contemporary fashion.
It invokes the feminine deity, Chithariya Mata (Lady of the Tatters) who embodies an ancient philosophical idea: all discrete things belong to one whole, to which all things eventually will return. The sujani finds its most eloquent expression, therefore, in the gossamer wraps sewn for newborns, and for their conception in the kobarghar, the nuptial chamber.
In this interpretation, textile designer Swati Kalsi explores a shell-like form that alludes feminine aspects of birth, nurture, and protection intrinsic to the traditional craft. Collaborating with rural women in a temporary urban workshop, Kalsi attempts to portray these women who guard and nurture an intimate world like a protective shell, all the while weathering formidable external forces.
The 'fabric' is conceived as a dramatic architectural enclosure that exposes as much as it sequesters, reminding us of jalis, and of the decorative tents that were once used by royal women in North India. By adding distinctive hand-detailing she otherwise employs in her own fashion practice, Arora emphasizes the fundamental idea of a tent as a garment for a finite space.
The small Parsi community in Mumbai, and in other parts of India, is known for its philanthropy.Often, these popular philanthropists were commemorated with marble busts or statuettes. Many of these images from the early 20th Century can still be seen. Over the years, their styles and poses have changed with diverse European and Indian influences. Here, textile designer Ashdeen A. Lilaowala creates a realistic Parsi marble bust in hand-embroidery, choosing his own mother's portrait with accurate facial details. She wears a traditional sari known as the Gara. Like the saris seen in vintage busts, the Gara has been draped over the head and brought in front over the shoulders.
The image evokes, at first glance, the pathos and nostalgia associated with older busts. It is, at the same time, a candid and unsentimental impression of a young Parsi, of his dwindling community and its need for self-preservation. The designer has explored different materials that form the shell for the bust, and the surface for the embroidery. To create a life-cast of his mother, impression material and fine stone plaster was applied to capture her facial details. The plaster cast was refined with clay work, as were details such as eyes and hair, as well as the sari. From this cast, a fiber glass mould was created. A few coats of latex were applied on the mould to get the outer shell of the bust. Liquid polyurethane foam was poured to form the core. For the embroidery, the latex layer was masked off from the foam. These latex pieces were then stretched on to an embroidery frame, adda. Using a fine aari needle, the surface was covered with long and short satin-stitches to create a marble-like texture, and the decorative details on the sari. Various qualities of yarns were used to imitate the tonality of marble. Finally, the embroidered latex pieces were again attached to the foam with synthetic rubber adhesive.
This is part of an expanding body of work that Akhila Krishnan has been developing as her practice, exploring the resonances between textiles and film; within the textile tradition of Ikat - seeking to explore the fundamental nature of this art form, its patterns and shapes, and its essential logic.
Here, Krishnan interprets the Ikat technique both in the temporal dimension within the structure of the book, as well as in the spatial dimension of this gallery site. The eye of the viewer shifts between the marks along the surface of a single thread, and the overall pattern created by the markings on the many threads that come together.
In Ikat, cotton or silk thread is resist-dyed in sections to pattern the warp and/or weft. At the dyeing stage, the pattern is hidden, mapped out in abstract sections along the line of the thread. It is only when the weaving begins that the mapped design on the warp and the weft come together, and the pattern in the fabric is slowly revealed.
Textile designer Chandrashekhar Bheda's work has focused on breaking away from the square grid of the woven textile. Altering this fundamental principle, he creates a radical weave where warp and wefts no longer conform to traditional loom principles. From one end to the other, and from the bottom to the top, the character of the fabric keeps changing.
Parismita Singh's work here presents itself as three textiles, with a written text accompanying these. Three artist weavers from the Koch Rabha tribe of Assam, Apila Rabha, Meena Koch and Utpola Koch have contributed in making these, woven in cotton and synthetic yarn. The looms used are the kontong or back strap loom and the taat haal. The particular taat haal used here is the throw shuttle loom, traditionally used in Assam, fitted with a fly shuttle slay.
Both an artist and writer, Parasmita Singh offers here a dialogue between the textiles made by women weavers of the Koch Rabha tribe of Assam, and a text through which she observes and responds to their traditional roles in the community. The woven cloths refer to identity-based political movements of the Sixties and Seventies, and their recently renewed significance as non-verbal tools to communicate resistance in the Kocha Rabha area.
These hand-printed panels draw upon the depiction of the nine planetary deities, Navagraha, as supplementary images in India's temple and ritual cloths. Alluding to the complex and varying influences attributed to the planets in Indian thought, the panels also suggest subtle animation and lucidity of form once seen in Indian pattern-making.
Here, people aspire to wear mass-market clothes, such as jeans and T-shirts, which are heavily endorsed by media celebrities and personalities. Equally, a huge number of service staff that crowd cities and towns in these regions, aspire to wear knock-offs of the same global brands that are worn by their well-to-do employers.
“Yatra” kalamkari recalls with its design the emblematic paisley motive. Within this motive, a story is told. In the repetition of the two paisley designs, each composed of a spiral stretching its tail as a comet, to reach the other spiral, the visual impact induces a feeling of a dynamic, a motion between the two.
It suggests the outburst, the surge, from one towards the other, the inter-penetration of the two worlds (spirals).If we read the design from left to right, we can follow the engagements of a designer from the west going towards east, in her extended discovery of cultures. This is why this textile piece is titled “Yatra” (journey, in Hindi).
These panels temporarily replace the painted wooden images of the deities Jagannatha, Balabhadra, and Subhadra, when these are removed for period renewal or for a festival. They are also offered as pilgrim souvenirs. Bhikari Moharana, a Patachitra painter skilled in traditional representations, here assembles a collage of science-fiction imagery from a variety of print media. He creates a compelling image of a cosmic force machine, an omnipotent mandala, a nerve centre for the command and control of a near-future universe.Retaining a traditional palette of mineral pigments, he invests the image with a kind of variety and depth of detail that are now rarely seen in the art.
Conventional loom-woven fabrics depend on two sets of perpendicular elements – warp and weft - for their primary structure. The rigid geometry constrains their dimensional form and flow. While most cloth has always been woven on looms, a far greater variety of non-loom textile-making processes have employed a single yarn element that engages with itself to create fabric.
The idea is given an unusual turn by graphic designer and sculptor Sachin George Sebastian, who creates an endless yarn from a self-interlocking unit of commonly-used buckram. A backing material normally hidden from view beneath a decorative textile or garment, the buckram takes centre-stage in this installation.
Textile designer Meera Narula's work explores a traditional North Indian embroidery technique known as Phool Patti ka Kaam or Aligarh Kaam. This delicate, white-work appliqué relies on miniscule pieces of cloth, which are deftly cut and shaped into petals, and assembled into floral and linear patterns on translucent white cloth.
Beginning with a blank canvas, representing the purity and innocence of childhood, the panels are arranged in a narrative that is at once intimate and universal, which she describes in her own words: The second frame takes us into the next stage, where the mind is specked with a few seeds that may have cropped from within.
Frame three takes us into that time when social routines, disciplinary instructions, institutional rules, and academic curricula, the otherwise translucent fabric of mind gets moiréd'. 'In adolescence, the free flowing mind-space shrinks rapidly and a pattern of definitive thoughts and beliefs seem to have found new ground.
Fracture: Indian Textiles, New Conversations at the Devi Art Foundation is curated by Mayank Mansingh Kaul, Rahul Jain and Sanjay Garg.
Devi Art Foundation Team: Kanupriya Bhatter, Anannya Mehta, Srinivas Aditya Mopidevi, Kriti Sood, Reha Sodhi
Text copyrights of the Curators.
Image copyrights of the Artists and Devi Art Foundation.
Exhibit drafted by: Srinivas Aditya Mopidevi, Kriti Sood, Devi Art Foundation.