Jan 21, 2015 - May 30, 2015

Fracture : Indian Textiles, New Conversations

Devi Art Foundation

Devi Art Foundation

Fracture: Indian Textiles, New Conversations
Fracture: Indian Textiles, New Conversations
Textiles remain the most visible and prolific of all living craft traditions in contemporary India. With extraordinary diversity in aesthetics and technique, they straddle the multiple genres of art, design and manufacturing, which are unparalleled in the world. As clothing, ritual objects, products for daily use, and sacred symbols, they have come to represent, through new materials and technologies, a shift in social and cultural values.

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

7 Yokings of the Felicity, Astha Butail 
In collaboration with Raw Mango, M.Yasim, Hand woven benarasi kimkhab textile (silk and gilded thread), Weavers: Mustak Ahamad, Jagdish Prasad and Ramji Maurya, Site specific dimensions Gurgaon/ Varanasi, 2013 – 2014.                                                             

Unwoven gold threads represent the simplicity that underlies a composite form. The warps of bliss are tethered together to the roof, hinting at an inexpressible freedom.

Each is constructed in proportional ratios so that the first is the 1/7 of the part of the last structure. Gold and grey, small and large, part and whole; the deep ochre features patterns of grey alluding to the grey areas that intersect and hamper the state of primordial-ultimate contentment.

A painful strength, an invisible anti-sun, a forced source of energy, a shadow of spiritual light - the Black Sun this installation refers to appears in the oldest oral traditions of the world.

It is mentioned in the Rig Veda along with Martand, the mortal egg. This symbolism of the twin, the conflict of the opposites, as also the unity of opposites, is deeply significant.

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'.

Untitled, Charu Wadhwa
Embroidered cotton,  60.0 x 57.0 inches, Lucknow, 2007.

Many of India's ceremonial and ritual textiles feature the sun, in the form of a splendid rayed disk, as a timeless progenitor and benefactor. This traditional image returns in this panel, embroidered densely with multiple metallic elements.

It's symbolic associations are discarded and replaced with a seemingly familiar reference to the nature of time: a complex, self-contained mechanism that never fully reveals itself.

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.

Untitled,  Manish Arora
In collaboration with Hashim Mohammad, Woven silk and metal thread, 75.5  x  28.5 inches,  Varanasi, 2007.

One of India's most celebrated designers, Manish Arora challenges familiar textile idioms while working within a traditional vocabulary of motifs and materials.

In this hand-woven brocade, a kaleidoscopic pattern appears in a wildly unconventional and variable scale. Is this perhaps a mutant peacock feather? Is it a digital image of electronic trance music? Or is this a distorted human form?

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.

Shikargah 
Three panels of samite-weave silk and metal thread, Textile Art of India 81.0 x 35.4 inches (each) New Delhi/Varanasi, 2003.

Resonant with the traditional theme of the royal hunt, Shikargah, these lengths of patterned silks resurrect Indian textile imagery of inhabited natural landscapes. Repeated seamlessly in the warp and weft directions, these designs are at once historic and of our time.

Their subject, India’s vanishing wildlife, has a compelling urgency today. Rare, endangered animals and birds replace the symbolic elephants, tigers, horses, parrots, and peacocks that have been celebrated in Indian myth, literature, music and art.

The quality of the materials and weaving matches the finest found in historic examples of this kind, representing a culmination of a new wave of revivalist experiments in the late Nineties, which aimed to restore skills, techniques, and pattern-making within Indian hand-weaving.

SHE LL, Swati Kalsi
Cotton and metallic thread on silk, Dimensions Variable, New Delhi / Bihar, 2014.

Sujani commonly refers to the traditional layering and sewing together of old, worn fragments of cloth for soft wraps,quilts and mats. In Bihar, the word sujani implies the coming together of 'su' (facilitating) and 'jani' (birth).

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.

Link/Interlink, Aneeth Arora
Thread on thread 132.0 x 108.0 x 96.0 inches New Delhi, 2015.

Seams in India's muslin garments were worked with such finesse, that the fabric sometimes left an impression of seamlessness. Fabric joints were overlaid with delicate decorative details, or were exaggerated, both to hide the panelling as well as to accentuate the form and lightness of apparel.

Particularly attractive were netted, pulled thread seams, with lace-like effects found in North Indian garments. In this exploration, Aneeth Arora turns the device of the airy, netted seam into the principal fabric itself: one composed entirely of an infinite number of such seams.


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.

Arora develops a technique that entangles yarns via machine-stitching on fabric on a soluble sheet of paper. The base fabric is then fully degraded by using devoré paste. The soluble sheet is dissolved in plain water.

As the cloth and paper substrates eventually disappear, each stitching yarn must be entangled with another to 'hold' the 'fabric' together. Removing the base leaves behind a lattice or lace-like textile held together by the abstract intertwining and interlinking of yarn.

Shernaz, Ashdeen Z. Lilaowala 
In collaboration with Islam Jaherul, Hand embroidery, 15.3 x 13.3 x 14.0 inches, New Delhi, 2014.

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.

Naksha: Patterns in Space and Time, Akhila Krishnan
In collaboration with Neha Puri Dhir (for MOOL) and Govindbhai, Dyed ikat cotton thread on red and black paper, 8.0 x 8.0 inches (closed concertina), 8.0 x 205.0 inches (opened out), London / Patan, 2014.

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.

Flying Rug, Chandrashekhar Bheda
In collaboration with Mahender Singh, Weaved and ribbed cotton, 120.0 x 420.0 inches (flat) and 96.0 x 252.0 inches, (displayed) New Delhi, 2014.

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.


Curvilinearity and weight vary continuously. A surface chequer-board of black and white diamonds, constantly advancing and receding in scale, heighten the illusion of spatial curvature and linear movement.

The result is a highly dynamic object that defies gravity and perception, floating freely in space like the proverbial flying carpet.

For this project, Bheda restructured the Panja Durrie loom by changing its fundamental geometry and technique. This work is the first in an upcoming series of large-scale textiles being woven by his team of weavers.

Mwasing Talam, Parismita Singh
In collaboration with Kocha Rabha weavers,   Hand woven textiles and text,  Dimensions variable Assam, 2014.Textile A: Cotton thread woven on the kontong or back loom. Textile B: Synthetic threads woven on taat haal (throw loom with fly shuttle slay). Textile C: Synthetic threads woven on the kontong or back loom.


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.

The complementary text points to the resilience of an art form that survives as an everyday domestic activity, holding out against a constellation of factors that would have otherwise lead to its demise.

In this, women's lives and their personal memories associated with cloth and folklore becomes a backdrop for traditional hand weaving.

Nine Spheres,   Shaikh Mohammad Hussain 
Screen and block-print on cotton, 106.0 x 106.0 inches (each), Mumbai, 2007.

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.

The design is inspired by a stock image from modern astro-photography: a time-lapse exposure of the night sky, in which astral bodies leave a delicate trace of concentric rings.

The image yields, here, a celestial landscape of spheres that map the subtle passage of the stars across heavens.

From a distance, the design appears to be composed of a single sphere repeated nine times across the surface.

When viewed closely, however, each sphere reveals itself to be different from the others, recalling a key artistic aspect of India's historic patterned textiles.

These panels are unique for their monolithic, non-repetitive design, and for their complex manipulation of large printing screens in multiple colours.

Pardeshi: the turban untied, Ishan Khosla
In collaboration with Sandeep Kumar and Vinay Singh, Hand block print on khadi cloth, 9.0 x 433.0 inches (each), New Delhi, 2014.

During colonial rule, raw cotton from India was supplied to British mills, while finished textiles and garments found their way back to the Indian market. Such cloth encouraged the replacement of traditional Indian menswear.

Babus - Indian men who wore western clothes - came to seen as civilized, wealthy, and powerful. Today, global companies mass-produce garments in so-called Third-World countries, in controversial work conditions, selling them back to the middle classes in the same countries.


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.


In India, this situation is very similar to what was seen a century ago. This series of Indian turban cloths is a comment on the loss of traditional markers of social identity once visible through the use of specific fabrics and motifs.

Ishan Khosla, graphic designer and artist, assembles traditional pattern arrangements of the leheriya stripe, the floral buta, and the architectural jaali, with logos of popular brands of western menswear.

Block-printed in an earthy palette, these logo-based designs take on a deceptively traditional appearance.


The turbans remind us of the dissolution of lineal and community identities, the changing perception of masculinity, and of the loss of a certain social grace that accompanied the flamboyance and power of traditional Indian menswear.

Yatra Kalamkari,  Bérénice Ellena
In collaboration with Sri Niranjan, Institut Français, Kalamkari, 76.0 x 198.0 inches, Srikalahasti, 2014.

“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).

If we look at the Kalamkari from the right to the left, instead, we can recognise the Draupadi episode of the Mahabharata, when her mythical sari unrolls endlessly to protect her virtue. On this endless sari, comparable to the endlessness of time, all events are unfolded as narratives.

The episodes depicted here are only an infinitesimal part of many kinds of events taking place in this world today.In one or two folds, the two paisley designs spread themselves, linked to each other. Draupadi’s story, on the far right, echoes with Penelope’s story on the far left.

The virtuous heroine of the Greek mythology finds her counterpart in Indian mythology with Draupadi. Penelope weaves and unweaves her fabric endlessly, and Krishna weaves an endless sari to protect the faithful Draupadi.

Inside the left spiral, we have the Greek labyrinth, symbolic of the labyrinth of the mind. Gandhi, Saraswati, Kabir, Pipa-ji, Namdev, up to Buddha and his sutras, all this is woven in the narration, tattooed on the fabric. Maya, the illusion, had spread her veil on the landscape.

“Yatra” kalamkari is an autobiographical narration, elaborated by Bérénice Ellena (designer researcher, screenwriter) and Sri Niranjan (the kalamkari painter).

Patachitra, Bhikari Moharana
Mineral pigments on paper, 72.0 x 72.0 inches,   Orissa, 2007.

For many centuries, the Chitrakars of Orissa have painted cloth panels - Patachitra - depicting the great shrine and ritual worship of Jagannatha, Lord of the Cosmos, in Puri (India).

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.

As the viewer is drawn in, multiple levels of structure and space unfold. The eye is trapped between illusion and awe. Hidden in the labyrinth of this giant orb is a single human head, inconspicuous yet eternally present and aware.

Residue, Sandeep Dua 
Block print on cotton, 48.4 x 106.0 inches (each), Gurgaon, 2014.

Block-printing tables often have a story to tell: of the print motifs, of the colors used, of the padding cloth on which printers leave their mark.

These residues build up, unwittingly, into a singular, un-premeditated image, a naïve artwork, as many colours and print patterns overlap unselfconsciously over long periods of time.


In these block printed panels; textile designer Sandeep Dua subverts a traditional printing process by discarding conscious print, and retaining the residue of the process itself. A new canvas emerges, in which the principal pattern might be seen as occupying negative spaces.

He deliberately imposes a form on the residues of this print by manipulating stencils to conceal and reveal elements in an ‘image’ that may be interpreted both as a narrative and a landscape.

As an urban practitioner, he chooses to use abstract and figurative elements that reflect architectural sprawl, as well as the human energy and chaos in his own immediate working environment; that of industrial, suburban Gurgaon.

Untitled, Sachin George Sebastian
Interlocking with Buckram, Site specific dimensions, New Delhi, 2014.

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.

Knitting, macramé, and crochet are examples of such techniques. The inherent flexibility and versatility of such textiles, have enabled some of the earliest and most significant advances in architecture and technology in human civilisation.

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.

Interlocked units come together in a potentially infinite expanse, creating an architectural passage with openings that lead one onward. In the process, these mechanical buckram units are transformed into free-flowing fabric walls of great lightness and fluidity.

Seeds of Thought, Meera Narula
In collaboration with Asif Shaikh, Phool Patti Ka Kaam (traditional embroidery), Dimensions variable, Ahmedabad, 2014.

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.

Like other types of work in shades of white, this form of embroidery was best suited to the fine muslin garments worn in summer in the Indian plains. She creates a sequence of eight panels that recall the exquisite scale and craftsmanship of such traditional work.

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.

The mind-space of the artist in her twenties looks busier than a checker board game. Middle age is fraught with demands on the self, seeds of thought seem like fickle specks, with the exception of few inner beliefs that shine through it all.

Past that, the struggle to free the mind might continue. Finally, the residual fabric of the mind-space is dotted with fragmented memories of times well-spent, and of people dearly loved and the inner essence of a life's journey.

Silicon Jamdani Saree, Rimzim Dadu
Silicon, 38.0 x 187.0 inches, Noida, 2014.  

In traditional Jamdani weaving, pattern motifs were typically worked in white. Extra-weft threads for pattern were of the same fineness as those used in the fabric. In the best traditional examples, therefore the pattern could only be discerned when the textile was held against the light.

Engaging in the play of sheerness and opacity in such traditional Jamdani, fashion designer Rimzim Dadu opts for a radically different fabric material: white silicon rubber sheets shredded to yield lengths of thin yarn.

She weaves a sari-like length, with a heavy but translucent body fabric worked with opaque extra-weft patterns.

The plain fabric areas achieve a strikingly delicate and lightweight texture reminiscent of fine muslin. The stretched silicon yarns release their tension, creating gentle undulations on the flat surface.

Muslin Khadi
Cotton, 48 x 232 inches, West Bengal, 1987.

Above all else, perhaps, Khadi embodies a wider range of uses and associations than any other traditional Indian fabric. From the swaddling cloth for a newborn to the shroud for the deceased, the handspun-hand woven has been omnipresent in Indian life.

In this installation, Khadi evokes two of its purest associations embedded in Indian sensibility. It appears as the rarest and most refined of all Indian hand-made cloth: a material of surpassing luxury.

It also appears as a timeless Indian garment: unstitched, free-flowing, draped like water over skin. Embodying the highest value of craftsmanship, as well as the deepest purity of ritual, Khadi, in some ways, defines India.

Devi Art Foundation
Credits: Story

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.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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