A month ago, a nondescript tea stall by the railway station in Ujjain became a site of curiosity, and not for its “super cut” Rs 5 chai. This dingy contraption of poles, grills and a tin shack was “bombarded” by bursts of colours — metres and metres of woven jute yarn enveloped it in vibrant hues. The dark and neglected back alley was adorned in similar intricate weaves.
“Is this free?” one passer-by asked. “It might catch fire,” another pointed out, indicating an open stove where the famous tea brewed. But the “yarn bombers”, Delhi-based artists Rahul Chaudhary and Pankaj Saroj, carried on, even entertaining the dhapli wallahs at the venue for a brief while with a spin of the yarn on their instruments. At the end of the day, when the transformation was over, there was a round of applause. “It seemed like the yarn had changed the air in that tea stall. It brought about a different kind of positivity,” says 37-year-old Saroj.
This scene is a part of the first phase of the Yarn Yatra project, an initiative by Panipat-based Raj Group’s cultural leg, Raj Art Initiative (RAI). Founded in January, the “yarn bombing” project immerses itself in spaces inhabited and frequented by the common man, and tells a story through its weaves. Chaudhary and Saroj, guided by Delhi-based curator and founder of RAI, Shailin Smith, travelled across six cities as part of its first phase. “It wasn’t supposed to be a fancy project. I wanted the artists to travel by train and interact with the weaver community as well as the people around them,” says Smith, 36.
The two artists went around without instructions — from the tea stall in Ujjain to a tree outside Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal. “We wanted the yarn to be connected to objects that can be reused,” says Saroj, who is a native of Firozabad, Uttar Pradesh, known for its handloom weaving culture.
Covering tea stalls was an important part of the project. “What is the source of entertainment for these weavers? It’s chai ki dukaan,” says Smith. “It’s a discussion point for the common people. No matter who you are, you drop in for a chai. We thought it to be an apt intervention for our work,” says Saroj.
Chaudhary comes from Nirali village in north Bihar’s Madhubani district. “My dadi used to weave for the village,” says the 45-year-old, who has worked with National Institute of Design as a documentation and research assistant. His contribution to the project comes from his ability to weave with his hands, instead of needles or machines, a technique rarely seen in the art form. “I use my elbows as a needle. I can’t knit fast, but it is loose, which lends different textures. Weaving is a mathematical language; it’s precise. People usually stitch according to patterns, which is why they use machines and needles. Hands are used only when you’re experimenting,” he adds.
With the first leg of the project wrapped up, the team is gearing up for its second edition in November, which will go to Lucknow, Bhadohi, Varanasi, Kolkata, Bolpur, Guwahati, and finally, Majuli, the hub of Assamese weaving. In December, they will travel from Delhi to Panipat.