Rajni Sharma Balachandran’s sari safari brings together the unique weaving traditions of India.

She is the quintessential painter who thinks, creates and analyses through the prism of colour, intuitive thought and instinct. Rajni Sharma Balachandran has trained at the Arts Student League, Parsons School of Design and New York School of Arts, and has exhibited at the galleries of Soho and Chelsea in New York.

Yet, today her canvas is the sari which transforms into a glowing piece of art through her collaborative effects with traditional artisans, linking art with weaving, and reinterpreting tradition to create an exciting new design vocabulary. Kancheepuram and Benarasi weaves mingle to create rare textures, Japanese Shibori spreads its diffused magic in shades of indigo, kalamkari and batik fuse images of peacocks and flower strewn trees, all in a medley of subtle or flamboyant colour palettes.

While Rajni’s woven saris resonate with traditional art as well as touches of a Klint painting or a Raza inspired ‘bindu’, her painting frames portray the sari in all its constant, flowing imagery, be it a Rani of Jhansi leading her women warriors, two sari-draped women in ‘Whither Home’ or the ethereal feel of the drape in ‘Behind the Veil.’

At Rajni’s exhibition “Sari Musings”, on display are her variegated creations. Kancheepurams present a stunning spectacle, often designed with an innovative twist, but woven with the classic restraint of the design language with its repertoire of motifs, colours, symbolism and principles of balance. Same can be seen in the Tibetan flame sari inspired by a Thangkha. It has been produced as a border in a Kancheepuram sari for the first time.

The “Satrangi” sari is another brilliant reinvention of a Varanasi sari weave done on seven looms… it’s the exhibition’s masterpiece! The Leheriya brocade shaded green almost suggests the work of a painter’s brush. The ‘Lattice of Leaves’ sari is reminiscent of a Thanjavur jamdani, while the pink wedding sari with delicately woven hamsas and elephants on the body is eye-catching.

Also check out the Aaravasi saris with cotton in the warp and weft zari, Kancheepuram’s mubbagams done in panels of Shibori, a traditional orange sari with a pallu celebrating vertically placed rudraksha motifs, and many more.

The exhibition has exceptional indigo Shibori in silk, georgette, chiffon, Chanderis and Maheswaris, kalamkari and Kashmiri roses and nargis embroidered on cotton.

Also part of Rajni’s oeuvre is the corporate off-white with pink striped border as well as ivory korvais with black temple border and pallu.

Says the artist, “By challenging the stereotype, I have created saris for the 21st century Indian woman, ranging from dressy and formal to grand and simple.”

On why Rajni Balachandran chose the sari as a canvas…

Well, I am a sari warrior! When I came back to India after a 40-year stay in the U.S., I wanted to discover and express the soul of India: its colours, symbols, legends, traditions and culture. Handcrafted textile presented itself as a touch stone. So began my sari safari of discovering styles, techniques, patterns and weaves and how they could interact with my artistic sensibilities.

On how her training in Art has helped her creative process…

Art helped me in significant ways in designing a sari. Its area is divided into three parts, the longitudinal borders, the pallu end piece and the body or the field ready to be filled by an artist’s imagination. Colour play was taught to me as an artist. I never had to explain to the weavers that in order to get an orange sari, there should be a lemon dyed weft on a red warp! Also, free hand drawing to communicate my ideas to the weaver is a great visual tool.

On mixing and matching weaves, textile art techniques and painting...

My creative journey led me to natural dyes, indigo and other dyes. Natural dyes were used in Shibori and Kalamkari. I introduced Kalamkari into the gopurams and mubbagam of Kanchi and Machilipatnam free flowing flowers into Kalamkari. Rare Benaras weaves were integrated into Kanchi saris. A special innovation has been doing Shibori in Kanchipuram silks with multiple patterns woven in to the sari.

“Sari Musings” is on at Jari, The Sari Studio, 46/54 3rd Main Road, Gandhi Nagar, Adyar, from November 22 to 30, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.