Last year she took us to Uzbekistan and central Asia through a curated exhibition of textiles, weaves and weaving paraphernalia. Now, textile revivalist Ritu Kumar is turning our attention to India and its rich heritage, through “Kanaat”, a two-day exhibition that is being showcased at her store in South Extension. The scenography and text for the exhibition has been put in place by textile designer Mayank Mansingh Kaul.
Excerpts from a conversation:
If you could discuss the significance of kanaat in Indian textiles.
The word kanaat refers to textile panels that were used to create walls, screens and tents over the centuries in the Indian subcontinent. Historically, many of these were meant for furnishings, interiors and architecture and would form travelling palaces, garden pavilions and sacred spaces. They reflected the outstanding genius of Indian dyers, artists and printers. At a time when Indian contemporary textile print designs have lost connection with the excellence of the past, this exhibition is a reminder of their various schools and regions which flourished over time.
Each developed its distinct design identity, while sharing a common sub-continental artistic sensibility — from Serampore in Bengal to Masulipatnam in south India, Kutch in Gujarat, Sanganer in Rajasthan and Farukkhabad in Uttar Pradesh. Kanaat is also a result of cosmopolitan cultural encounters, through trade and migration, that enabled a vibrant artistic dialogue through fabric, bringing unprecedented wealth to the subcontinent. We have tried to recreate large kanaats to mirror their actual size, and referred to painted and printed textiles rather than miniatures.
Why do you think we have forgotten this exquisite craft?
It has mostly been a natural progression. As the British came, the kanaats slowly perhaps lost their importance because the armies never travelled that much. Earlier, wars were fought over many months and it came down to almost nothing when the British took over. Since these fabrics were not very durable, with the heat they must have dissolved or thrown away. Now, if at all they exist, it is in museums overseas.
You also started your home furnishings line earlier this year.
Home was always something we had in mind to do. In fact, in the brand’s early years, there were some explorations in silk razais and those pieces are still in my home and those of our early customers. So it was only a matter of time that we started developing this collection.
There is a lot of talk about recycling/upcycling and to make fashion sustainable. Your thoughts?
I think we can go right back to doing what we always did in the yesteryears; recycling old fabrics. In Bengal, torn Kantha sarees were used one over the other with a running stitch and they were revived as bed covers. Nothing was ever really thrown away and that happened because we were using a lot of natural fabrics. Now, with fast fashion, we have to change our thinking. Fashion needs to be far more durable in its aesthetics so that it lasts longer.
The exhibition will take place at Ritu Kumar Home, South Extension II, on December 12, 5-8 pm