‘Akshara', on from today at Kalakshetra, turns rich vernacular scripts into an art form

Jaya Jaitley is back at Kalakshetra, putting together the 2010 edition of her annual crafts festival. It's raining but she's sunnily optimistic. It will shine, she says. “We'll weather any storm.”

The story behind the fest theme bears this out. The concept of ‘Akshara', “a unique exposition of regional calligraphy on crafts, textiles and art”, exploded in her mind, she says, when she met this craftsman from a village. “‘I'm unpad',” said the Kashmiri youth who could “weave magic with his fine embroidery”. “Then it struck me. Why don't we turn our rich vernacular scripts into an art form?”

It would work at different levels. As nearly 40 craftspersons worked to infuse various scripts into the designs, their literacy would be assured. The literate artisan would not have to abandon his gift and migrate to a metro. His literacy would be intricately woven into his etching, carving, block-printing, painting, embroidery. “Their words and thoughts would have value when displayed as part of their art. They would respect themselves as creative, thinking people. As representatives of a culture. As equals.”

The festival brochure has printed examples of her “aesthetics in alphabet”. There are pictures of bags, cushion covers, address books, mugs and silver jewellery carrying Devanagiri, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Urdu scripts as part of the design. On a bag you see fine alphabet forming the border of a woman's dupatta. In another, a series of Tamil “O”s are block-printed into a regular pattern. Tamil letters go into pendants and ear-rings, curvy Bengali letters are leaves of a tree and the mother-and-baby-elephants standing under it. A shopping bag is loaded with a recipe in Bengali, a cup is embossed with Devanagiri letters. The Telugu script makes up a bird's feathers. Kabir's poem is on a stole. Malayalam aksharam embellishes terracotta.

These are just some of the endlessly beautiful possibilities. “This would revive dying languages, impart education, create a whole new design vocabulary!” says Jaya.

‘Akshara' is a theme that stitches literacy and craft together, attaching social value to art. It sees vernacular script as design element. “I have hardly touched the surface,” says Jaya. “We'll go from the drawing board to the public space depending on the response. We will fine-tune, constantly monitor the evolving ideas.”

At the exhibition (from December 4 to 13), stop to read the history of 12 regional scripts. aksharam Interact with artisans of the ‘Akshara' project. The show's limited edition, though, and many of the products will be for show and order.

Keywords: AksharaKalakshetracrafts