Unveiling Akshara

Dastkari Haat Samiti

In October 2011, it organized the Akshara workshop on calligraphy with two eminent teachers. It selected 20 talented craftspeople to participate.  All except one were literate, some could manage to write, but not expertly, and a few took to calligraphy like ducks to water even with no prior experience. The teachers had never taught adults before, and found the need to readjust their methods when dealing with national award winning craftspeople who felt like kindergarten students learning to wield a calligraphy pen. The teachers performed a remarkable feat in managing to condense a year’s course into six days, albeit with many short-cuts. The syllabus began with the participants learning to fashion their own bamboo calligraphy pens and ended with a range of remarkable calligraphy in many scripts. Each participant formulated enthusiastic plans to apply this art to their particular craft or art form.  A publication and a video film were made to record the process. The deadline for creating quality works incorporating what they had learned was the Akshara exhibition slated for September 2012 at Delhi.

Bamboo pens, known as Reed pens are writing instruments, were used with along with brushes at the workshop.

Calligraphers demonstrating various styles of scripts at the calligraphy workshop.

Prakash Joshi, Phad painter from Rajashthan, has beautifully written lines in the devanagari script.

More of Prakash Joshi's devanagari calligraphy.

More of Prakash Joshi's devanagari calligraphy.

Exploring scripts on paper.

A group of craftspeople, discovering the use of calligraphy tools at a primary stage.

Iterations of calligraphy.

Graphical representation of the Urdu script.

Exploring Telugu calligraphy through kalamkari art.

Urdu calligraphy created by a non literate embroidery artist from Kashmir.

Calligraphy experimentations works of various Indian regional scripts.

Once the artists understood the basic concepts of calligraphy, their own creativity and imagination took over. They formulated enthusiastic plans to apply this art to their particular craft or art form. Apindra Swain began to understand ways of calligraphy being incorporated in his work. He also took a new step by depicting non-traditional subject matter.

The astrologer has been a part of rural India, roaming the villages offering to tell people’s fortunes. Such astrologers are also found in the old parts of cosmopolitan cities. Parrots are a decorative element in much of India’s art and craft. In Swain’s story in a series of nine modules, the astrologer releases a caged parrot and teaches it how to select cards that add up to telling a person’s fortune, rather like Chinese fortune cookies. For most of the series in these paintings, the parrot is teasing the viewer, sometimes showing this word, sometimes that, flying in from the right and sometimes the left. Finally, the astrologer, his customer, and the parrot gather together as the parrot picks out a set of cards that tells the customer’s future. The cards together read tumara aasha puran heba, meaning “your hopes will be fulfilled”. The pictures convey the message that education is liberating and can help in earning a good livelihood. A humorous subtext is in the lighthearted mocking of most popular forms of astrological predictions, which are reassuring clichés that insecure people seek.

The Akshara Project- Crafting Indian Scripts
The Akshara Project was implemented by the Dastkari Haat Samiti,in the year 2012, to weave together important agendas:  teaching the value of literacy to unlettered crafts people, demonstrating the visual beauty of India's many languages, creating a new design vocabulary developed through artistic calligraphy in regional scripts and applying them to a variety of traditional craft skills.

Initial Stages of the preparatory phase.

Display of various regional craft exhibition items.

The Akshara Project- Crafting Indian Scripts: Display of various regional art and craft works.

Above: Framed kalamkari wall hanging of the Tree of Life with Telugu script.
Below: Platter in Urdu script with painted stones in papier-maiche art.

Phad Painting by Prakash Joshi.

Wooden Kavad Cupboard by Satyanarayan Suthar.

Sanjhi Art by Ram Soni

Patachitra (Scroll Paintings) by Radha Chitrakar and Sanuwar Chitrakar.

Top Row: Wood and lacquer Lamps by Noor Salma
Left to Right: Terracotta Lamp By Rajesh Roy, Wood and lacquer Lamp by Noor Salma, Wooden lamp with sanjhi paper cut art by Ram Soni

Display of a hand embroidered wall hanging from Gujarat by Sonaben Koli & Karmiben.

Top: Handwritten Urdu daily newspaper The Musalman,
by The Musalman
Left to Right: Book Binding by Naresh Kumar, Children’s story book Amar Ma by Bahadur Chitrakar, Children’s story book 'Majhe Vadeel' (My Father) by Rajesh Vangad.

Kangra art on mirrors with calligraphy by Sneh Gangal, the artist in the picture.

Embroidered Wall Hanging by Savitri Devi, the artist in the picture.

Stone Platters by Adil Writer.

Regional script banners.

A set of patachitra paintings by Apindra Swain depicting the story of the liberation and education of a parrot.

Woven and embroidered saree by Ramanand Basak and Khamabati Karmakar.

Panels in the style of miniature painting by Vijender Bharti.

Projection on an installation and beyond.

Projection on an installation.

Calligraphy by Rajeev Kumar.

Sculptured devanagari alphabets made of drinking straws and light.

Calligraphy workshop at Akshara.

Akshara - Crafting Indian Scripts
AKSHARA: Indian Calligraphy redefined at the Hanager Arts Centre, Cairo.

Script panels hung at the entrance.

Calligraphy on papyrus paper by Rajeev Kumar of India and Hossam of Egypt. It says Aankhon se door, dil ke kareeb meaning "far from view but close in hearts".

Contemporary dancer, Gilles Chuyen at the Akshara inaugural in Cairo.

Aksharaakaaram - a film on Calligraphy and Dance. Dancer Gilles Nguyen moves past with a textile woven with calligraphy.

Akshara - Crafting Indian Scripts
AKSHARA, Crafting Indian Scripts hosted by UNESCO at its headquarters in Paris.

AKSHARA: Indian Calligraphy redefined at the Unesco venue. Craftworks and abstract projection amongst the exhibits.

Demonstration of Kalamkari art at the exhibition.

Demonstration by carpet weaver, Mohammed Kalam.

Conversations in craft and calligraphy with master calligraphers from China, Russia, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Korea, Japan and India. The exchange merged well with UNESCO's mandate on culture and the preservation of linguistic diversity.

International Calligrapher, Wang Xuyuan exploring various styles.

AKSHARA: Indian Calligraphy redefined at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya Musuem, Mumbai
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