Khadi is her canvas

Shelly Jyoti’s exhibition, ‘Preserving Textile Heritage as Tribute to Gandhi: Art Works in Khadi and Ajrakh.’  

A breathtakingly serene installation, titled ‘Integrating India,’ made out of 30 metres of khadi, covered with delicate Sanskrit calligraphy floats gracefully like the sails of a ship. It sets the tone for visual artist-poet-designer-textile historian Shelly Jyoti’s exhibition, ‘Preserving Textile Heritage as Tribute to Gandhi: Art Works in Khadi and Ajrakh’.

The installation is the artist’s symbolic representation of Gandhiji’s Dandi March and a salute to khadi as an economic, moral and spiritual fabric. It provides a pristine backdrop to Shelly’s uniquely conceived ajrakh on khadi wall hangings and installations, which are part of her ‘Salt: The Great March’ series.

The artist says, “Khadi is my canvas as a mode of expression, ajrakh printing and dyeing my tools to express my feelings in the Salt March series. I am driven by my passion for khadi and its propagation is part of my ‘swadharma’ for my country."

“In my ‘Salt: The Great March’ installations, wall hangings and garments, khadi is re-contextualised as a contemporary social movement visualised through traditional craft materials and processes. If 40 crore Indians were to buy 5 m of khadi, we would raise Rs.140 crores and end rural unemployment, apart from underlining the intrinsic value of khadi as a symbol of moral regeneration, national pride and the value of handi-craft,” adds Shelley.

The 35 lyrical art works bring together ajrakh block prints, dyeing and needle work in poetic compositions. In enormous khadi canvasses suffused with colours, Shelley celebrates “the subaltern, the folk and voices of unsung artisans,” and also those of master artisan Dr. Ismail Khatri, son Junnaid and the Mohd. Siddiqi family.

‘Spinning Wheel: The Charkha,’ a 108”x108” circular piece in beige filled with 90 circular sculptural ajrakh pieces, creates a sense of delicious movement. Another charkha piece with calligraphy, represents man-machine interface.

In the artist’s exploration of khadi as a symbol of non-violence, Gandhiji walks to Dandi. Circular and square ajrakh textile pieces present ancient geometric motifs and flowers in hues taken from minerals, stones and flowers. Timeless garment-based works in ajrakh patterns document ‘angrakhas’ in contemporary style and rich colours.

“I travel to Bhuj”, says Shelley, “and lay my concept on the table while taking the artisans’ voices into the frame. I work with them through the process of ajrakh, which is time-consuming and precise. It begins with a 3,500 year-old-technique, which entails washing the cloth in water mixed with camel dung and soda ash. The cloth is then dyed-dried-calendered and sun-dried. The sun and heat have to be perfect! The cloth now comes to the table. Black is printed first with mud-resist. Outlining too is done first in black after which, areas requiring red are printed followed by blue, followed by washing. Each of my art works goes through 20 washes.”

“The ajrakh tradition is not going to last long”, she says. “So I created an art work, which goes on textile and will carefully be preserved in homes, private collections and museums for at least the next couple of generations. If the art vanishes, it is an irreplaceable loss to civilization and it is the responsibility of an artist to conserve it”.

The exhibition is on at Varija Art Gallery, Dakshina Chitra, East Coast Road, Muttukadu, till November 2.

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Printable version | May 3, 2021 1:53:54 AM |

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