The cover image of a Khadi bulletin published in 1921 had the map of India and the image of a village woman spinning a wheel. The words read: “To whom will you give? To foreign mills or to our poor cultivators?”. It was a reminder of Mahatma Gandhi’s appeal to the urban and middle class population to re-examine their consumer habits and become “moral consumers”. He proposed the idea of purchasing Khadi products and providing work to traditional and new producers of Khadi, instead of buying foreign-made goods that benefited other countries. The same bulletin inspired Delhi-based artist Shelly Jyoti’s installation Decolonizing Khadi Hand Towels: A Moral Consumer, where 12 Khadi towels hang on a fish net at Visual Arts Gallery in India Habitat Centre.
In her latest exhibition, Jyoti revisits numerous philosophies of Gandhi and ponders over ideas of swadharma through site-specific installations and 20 Ajrakh textile works made using khadi, centuries-old tradition of printing and kantha embroidery. After examining the plight of indigo farmers with her exhibition “Indigo Narratives” in 2008, Jyoti set out on a journey of gaining a deeper understanding of Gandhi’s views on non-violence, swadeshi, swaraj and khadi and decided to explore it in contemporary times through her works.
“I have explored the idea of swadharma in our country, much like the notion of dharma towards parents and family, as mentioned in the Vedas. I am trying to bridge a dialogue between the urban and the rural population, and rethink our engagement with spinners, weavers and handicraft makers. If once a year, people buy five metres of Khadi material, we can contribute immensely to empower the weavers and spinners. It is the most effortless way of connecting with them,” she says. That’s why her show is titled “The Khadi March: Just Five Metres”. “It draws from the basic requirement of needing five meters to cover a human body, like the sari.”
As part of the “Fashion Segment: Clothing and Accessories”, the site-specific installation Structured Jackets displays six jackets that are indigo-dyed and made using Ajrakh prints on Khadi. They have been successful in generating a dialogue among most viewers, with many enquiring if the jackets were on sale. With the help of tenth generation of Ajrakh textile artisans at Bhuj in Gujarat, Jyoti has also given 12 Gandhi topis, in khadi, a renewed look in the Ajrakh Headgears. “Much like Modi mentioned earlier this week, the use of Khadi during our struggle for Independence stood as a visual symbol of our fight against the British. But now it can stand as a brand statement for India,”
In the Timeless Silhouettes Angrakha series, Jyoti has created contemporary silhouettes using the Angrakha and Jama styles that were worn by men during the Mughal era, and has decorated them with extensive Ajrakh patterns and needle and mirror work on Khadi. There are also a few blouse samples in similar styles.