Santiniketan-based Rare comes to the city with an unusual collection of batik works

“I'm a mad girl,” laughs Sucharita Mahapatra, who quit her decade-old career as textile designer in New Delhi and moved to Santiniketan to explore home-grown hand crafts.

As she takes you on an engaging visual journey through a collection of beautiful batiks, you realise there's method in her madness. Stripes coalesce with delicate waves, drooping leaves court stiff stems and rigid geometric grids contain a maze of fluid patterns.

Having introduced her own touches to the traditional craft, Suchi and her Spanish husband Pepe Zalba have taken batik to a new level with their two-year-old design studio Rare. “With batik, you can push boundaries. Our effort has been to update the classic with an experimental palette, fresh motifs and improved techniques,” says Suchi, as she displays the piece de resistance — a sari with tree trunks running horizontally through the body and lovely green leaves opening out in the pallu. Though the design is dramatic, the designer has offset the huge proportions of the patterns with a muted colour scheme.

In Chennai, for an exhibition at Silkworm Boutique, the couple who have trained a bunch of homeless boys from the streets of Kolkata and several women from villages in the vicinity, say, “All the training is in-house and hands-on. Beauty lies in simplicity. The simpler the design, the better it shows. We encourage our artisans to engage only in freehand drawing. No tracing is involved. They enjoy freedom and at the same time develop their own sense of aesthetics as they go through the complex, multi-step drawing and wax resist dyeing technique. Batik is a dynamic art, it lends itself to experimentation. Drips, cracks and spills are part of the creative process. Sometimes, the best is achieved by chance!”

Waxing eloquent

The collection that includes saris, scarves and textiles transcends the traditional indigo-earth-white scheme and moves to a visually stimulating spectrum that ranges from spice tones to candy brights. “I don't fear colour. I love to play around with it,” smiles Suchi. The experimental streak continues in the motifs and technical departments as well. “There are newer ways of looking at an old art. By controlling the temperature and composition of wax and improvising the way colour is applied, you can achieve a lot. As for the motifs, they are done with spontaneity. We encourage our artisans to maintain a sketch book and keep drawing. We tweak and use them.” Hairline cracks, integral to the scalding wax and dye art, add to the detail in their creations without cluttering them.

If Suchi has an eye for design, Pepe dabbles in the technical aspects. “It's important to go wild once in a while,” he smiles. “Some people with a highly developed sense of aesthetics respond positively to such work.”

The couple's out-of-the-box thinking goes beyond their tryst with textiles. While their house is a “little commune” packed with people and beautiful stories, The Green Cup, their restaurant at Santiniketan (originally started as an art adda) offers an experimental menu. “We ask people what they DON'T want to have and dish out something that comes to our mind.”

(Rare's show is on at Silkworm Boutique, Khader Nawaz Khan Road, Nungambakkam, till July 17.)

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