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Telling Strokes: An exhibition honours Mahatma Gandhi through handmade paper and calligraphy

On the Twin Art Gallery walls at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) hang nearly 61 works of calligraphy that use handmade paper to celebrate 150 years of Gandhi’s birth.

Written by Shiny Varghese |
Updated: February 12, 2019 10:13:52 am
Parameshwar Raju’s Gandhi’s Three Monkeys Parameshwar Raju’s Gandhi’s Three Monkeys

Once upon a time, government records were written on them. Merchants used them for account books, and priests for religious writing. In the early 17th century, papermaking centres flourished in Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. Handmade paper became a political weapon when Mahatma Gandhi set it on par with khadi as a means of self-reliance. While its significance and journey as a material with 1001 stories have been forgotten in the current day, an exhibition in the Capital revives that memory through the words and the spirit of the Mahatma.

On the Twin Art Gallery walls at Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) hang nearly 61 works of calligraphy that use handmade paper to celebrate 150 years of Gandhi’s birth. A collaboration of IGNCA and Dastkari Haat Samiti, the exhibition brings together 11 calligraphers from across the country in the show called “Gandhi Virasat — Kazazkala”. From Sikkim, Jamyang Dorjee presents his work in Bhoti language, while Narayan Bhattathiri uses Malayalam to express his ideas. If there’s Qamar Dagar’s pictorial depictions with Urdu and Hindi from Delhi, Parameshwar Raju from Hyderabad presents calligrams that tell a thousand words. The remarkable restraint, the rhythm of an upstroke, the flourish of a letter form and the mystery that different fonts afford make the exhibition a highly interactive one.

Qamar Dagar’s Prarthana

“Calligraphy conveys meaning by illuminating a word or an idea. It’s like how a dancer internalises the movement and expresses herself in a swoop. Similarly, you can’t hesitate in calligraphy. One has to plan the imagery and internalise the idea that has to be communicated,” says Jaya Jaitly, Founder-President, Dastkari Haat Samiti.

More than five years ago, Jaitly’s project ‘Akshara — Crafting Indian Scripts’, gave new meaning to calligraphers, allowing them to interpret the creative form of writing on cloth, metal, wood and paper. Nearly 150 objects were displayed in Delhi, which then travelled to Egypt, France and Singapore. “This exhibition is a precursor to a permanent centre for calligraphy at the IGNCA. In the first phase we hope to have two large spaces and hopefully later have interactive areas for workshops and smaller exhibitions,” says Jaitly. The National Mission for Manuscripts, she says, will also be a part of the centre.

Calligrapher Rajeev Kumar, who has been part of the Akshara project, says, “The art is a composition of skill and creativity. My depicting of ‘Hey Ram’ is done in jet black strokes. The idea was to express the immediacy and urgency of the moment. The strokes are rapid and fast on paper, the idea of Gandhiji being shot in the chest three times and his words, unpremeditated, that came out from him. I was attempting to capture that moment,” he says.

Raju depicts Gandhi’s three monkeys in a rather cryptic yet lyrical manner. “In my work of Gandhi’s three monkeys, people might take time to identify, but it becomes easier as you look closely. There is a certain rhythm to the drawing in the way the tail curves up,” he says. Another artist, who works in pictorial calligraphy is Dagar, who presents her ideas in a contemporary interpretation. “Even if you don’t understand the language, the graphic itself offers clues,” she says, talking about her work, Yog, which presents the rising up of a form towards the skies.

Designing this exhibition and the space for the centre is Abaxial, an architectural practice in Delhi, led by Suparna Bhalla. “Calligraphy is a movement, where the mind, the hand and the eyes — all your senses come together. The attempt has been to appreciate the Gandhian value of less in our lives,” says Bhalla.

The exhibition is at IGNCA, Delhi, till February 17

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