It is the journey down the silk route — from encountering its men and women to the Harappan Bull printed on Nepali paper. The patterns are block printed to chronicle oral stories and traditions of the subcontinent back in the times when chintz was finding its way from the Far East to Europe. Artist Archana Hande, it seems, has set out to document those life and times in her accordion book titled The Silk Route Hedges. At the Musee de la Toile de Jouy in Versailles, France, each page of the installation narrates the history of textile along Indian geographical borders. It complements eight other exhibits. Together, the artwork presents Indian art and textile in a global context. The drapery has been given its due through visual arts. “This time, the textile related inputs into visual arts are more variegated and multifaceted than just representations in dresses and drapes,” says art historian Pranabranjan Ray, who has curated the two-month-long exhibition called “Continuing Traditions”.
Organised by Akar Prakar gallery in collaboration with the Government of India, the project originated from the journey from France to India by a 17th century Kalamkari temple hanging that was exhibited at the National Museum in Delhi last year. “It is not that the exhibition suddenly awakened the practitioners of the non-performing visual arts such as painting, sculpture, installation and graphics, to muse on the history of interface between their kind of art practices, and textiles as socio-cultural artefacts and technological objects, but certainly gave a fillip to their phenomenological concerns,” says Ray. He recalls some popular works of the masters on textile; Nandalal Bose’s Natirpuja mural and MF Husain’s Between the Spider and the Lamp and the Mother Teresa series.
At Versailles, he has Anju Dodiya’s charcoals and paints on 51×61 cms mattresses juxtaposed with Surajit Sarkar’s traditional Kalamkari rendition. The contemporary has been fused with the traditional. So Aditya Basak has customised his Kalamkari tempera to suit European tastes. Lord Krishna encounters the French here. “The gopiyan are painted in a miniature form along with a central panel of French aristocrats,” says Basak. Artist Shrabani Roy weaves traditional tattoo motifs with contemporary ones in “A Journey from Chintz to the Tattoo Parlour”. “The older folk motifs are woven and the modern tattoo has been painted on the reverse of an acrylic sheet. It is my way of representing ancient thought and contemporary tattoo practices,” says Roy, a Kolkata-based artist.
Concerns are also raised over traditions that are on the verge of extinction. For instance, GR Iranna’s image of the carpet questions the parameters on putting a price tag. “It is the pattern constructed by weaving that has to be looked at, it is the feel of the texture that has to be experienced to value the carpet. The carpet’s value is not what the trade dictates; nor does its value depend on it being used as the jainamaz by the namazi to meditate upon,” says Iranna. Jayashree Chakravarty, on the other hand, has found similarities between the cultivated fields of alluvial planes of Bengal and patterns in Bengal’s Kantha embroidery. “The apparently chaotic design on the surface tends to establish a textural calm by interacting with the grounds beneath. The metaphoric warp and the weft of motifs are indicative of textile not only in terms of meaning, but also in terms of the feel,” says Chakravarty.
Sabyasachi Mukherjee is the lone fashion designer. He takes cues from Dickens’s Miss Havesham, “merging it with obsessiveness” of Choti Bahu from Bimal Mitra’s Saheb Bibi Golam. The techniques range from Dabu to Kalamkari, Zardozi, Shisha embroidery and Gota work.
The end brings us back to the silk route though. This time, tracing it is Kolkata-based Paula Sengupta — on delicate tempera paintings akin to Tibetan thangkas.