Khalid, the 19-year-old practitioner of the age-old tradition of Ajrakh, could have been a traditional block printer and dyer creating patterns that have been handed down from generations. But he thinks differently. He experiments with the technique to create pieces that are uniquely his own; thus crossing the line from a craftsman to an artist.

Enough to hold a debut solo show that goes on display at The Artisans' Center at Kala Ghoda, Mumbai. But before we go any further here is something about the ajrakh tradition. 

According to Judy Frater, who runs Kala Raksha, ajrakh originated in Persia and dates back to the 15th century. It came to Gujarat via Sindh. “It is a type of block printing using natural dyes like indigo, madder and the off-white of the fabric. It comprises symmetrical patters and layouts and is printed on both sides of the fabric,” she says.

Khalid was a young boy of nine when he saw his village razed to ground in the devastating earthquake of 2001 in Gujarat. As a 13-year-old, he fled to Mumbai to escape the drudgery of school. Khalid soon learnt that life in a metro was no bed of roses. He returned to the village as an apprentice to his uncle. In three years, he had mastered different aspects of block printing. He was ready to explore something new.

At the suggestion of a well wisher Khalid enrolled at Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya. For someone who had never used a pencil or sketches or studied design or colours, Khalid took the year-long assignment as a challenge. Taking blocks, rocks, and even bare hands he creates dynamic contemporary compositions with startling hints of their ancient traditional origins. He graduated from the institute in 2010.

Says Radhi Parikh of Artisans, “Khalid has taken this very formal and symmetrical art and journeyed to abstract painting using it in a very fresh way by overlapping and masking and creating a vision uniquely his own. He has innovated with his traditional techniques.”

The bustling metro of Mumbai had left his mark on the young man. In the debut solo where he will display stoles, saris and wall hangings, he has used motifs from the metro – Haji Ali, Gateway of India and Churchgate to name some. Khalid has found his calling in the creative freedom within the confines of his traditional craft. He says, if there was support, youngsters like him would venture into the field instead of abandoning their homes and craft to work as unskilled labour in urban areas. Bottomline: dynamic contemporary compositions with startling hints of their ancient traditional origins.

Mumbai in the Eyes of Khalid; April 9-11 from 11.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m.; The Artisans' Center, Kala Ghoda, Mumbai.

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