Continuing her efforts to preserve and revive popular interest in rare Indian arts, Pravina Mecklai of Jamaat Art Gallery is hosting a show of Kalamkari, the traditional hand-painted art form that entails free-hand drawing on textile. “Tree of Life”, as this show is called, comprises works by J. Niranjan Chetty, a fifth generation descendant of the Chetty family whose works have been displayed in galleries around the world.

Niranjan explains what Kalamkari is all about. “As the name says, this is art (kari) done with the pen (kalam). Its history dates back several centuries. In the 15th century, Europeans favoured it for their outfits and home furnishings. Their patronage gave it a boost. However, later, the number of practitioners started dwindling as this is an art passed on through generations of certain families. My grandfather started reviving it in the mid-1950s by imparting the knowledge to six students. Right now, the number of students has increased to more than 2000. This intricate art is now flourishing.”

While Niranjan has created works on canvas with acrylic, original Kalamkari is created on cloth with natural dyes. The cotton fabric is immersed in a mixture of resin and cow milk. After drying, figures/contours are drawn with bamboo sticks and natural colours made of crushed seeds or flowers and vegetable dyes are filled in the intricate figures. Kalamkari also has been influenced by Persian art. Kalamkari uses only five colours, which are mixed and matched to form an array of colours.

While mythological stories form the backdrop of most Kalamkari works, in this show, Niranjan’s theme is ‘Tree of Life’. Speaking about his choice of subject, he says “Any traditional art form was devised to spread awareness or a message about things affecting society. In today’s times, environmental concerns are a major issue and need as much attention as they can get. The Tree of Life is a mythical tree, which supports animals and birds and flowers of different species. It is also an auspicious symbol that brings good health, wealth and harmony to the beholder. So I have worked on this theme to proliferate cheer in the festive season and, more importantly, spread the message of protecting the environment for our future generations.”

Bottomline: An effort to preserve a piece of our artistic heritage.

Tree of Life

Where: Jamaat Art Gallery, Colaba, Mumbai

When: Till December 7