Salt to taste

Shelly Jyoti’s latest body of work inspired by Gandhian ideals is more than just art. She calls it her swadharma.

September 18, 2014 06:18 pm | Updated 06:18 pm IST

ON BAPU’S TRAIL Shelly Jyoti with her work.

ON BAPU’S TRAIL Shelly Jyoti with her work.

Artists don’t cease to find inspiration in Mahatma Gandhi’s life. The revered leader has been a source for artist and designer Shelly Jyoti for years now. So, with every work of hers, Shelly takes the engagement a bit far. With her just concluded show “Salt: The Great March II (Re-Contextualizing Ajrakh Textile Traditions on khadi in Contemporary Art and Craft)”, Shelly delved a bit deeper into his philosophy of ‘sarvoday’ and ‘swadharma’. The show was a sequel to Jyoti’s show last year that explored the same theme.

The 40 works marrying khadi with ajrakh traditions of printing and dyeing were on display at The Art Gallery, India International Centre. The Delhi-based artist had put together a collection comprising canvases documenting 21 Century textile traditions of India using clothing samplers, site-specific textile (khadi fabric) installations, garments with ajrakh printing and a spoken poetry video film. “While working on ‘Indigo Narratives’ (her exhibition held in collaboration with artist Laura Kina in 2008), I was introduced to Gandhiji’s beliefs through the Champaran Movement. With time I got more and more involved with swadharma and satyagraha. More I read him, more I felt that his ideas were relevant to today’s world. So the present body of work is a reaction to these mind-boggling scams, Nirbhayas and what not,” says Shelly.

Thoughtfully and skilfully the artist wove in Gandhian philosophy with ajrakh and in turn made it address the present scenario. ‘Allow me to Grow with Fear’ was an ajrakh baby frock installation, expressing the constant fear of a girl child and her desire to grow up without fear or inhibitions, including the threat of rape, molestation or sexual assault. Having a more direct dialogue with his thoughts were works like ‘The Spinning Wheel’ with the imagery of charkha containing several charkhas within it created with ajrakh print and kantha stitch on Khadi. “Swadharma is one’s own duty. It can be swadharma if the entire urban population of 40 million decides to buy just five metres of khadi every year. Look at the charkhas that will start running. Look at the employment it will create. It will lead to ‘sarvoday’ benefit of all,” explains the artist.

With the conscious use of khadi in her art, Shelly is also referring to the idea of nationalism. The site specific installation ‘Integrating khadi’, made of 30 meters of 8 ply khadi and printed with Sanskrit calligraphy, explored the act of wearing khadi as a symbol of national pride . The installation tried to emulate the brisk walking of Gandhi and his volunteers surging on towards Dandi and the shape of sails also implies the kinetic feel that she adds to this site specific installation.

“When I started working on this show, I went to Dandi to feel more inspired. I met Gandhians like Gosain Bhai Kaka and Acharya Dhiru Bhai who went with Gandhiji on Dandi March. I picked up a lot of spinning threads and didn’t know what to do with them. Then I made an installation out of it. Gandhiji called them threads of swaraj and I titled the work just that.”

The use of ajrakh — one of the oldest block printing technique using natural dyes, characterised by complex geometrical patterns, has its own relevance in her work. “The patterns share similarities with ancient Indus Valley Civilization patterns, and the patterns of medieval cloths traded along the Indian Ocean route. The Partition of India and Pakistan hugely affected the practice and trading of block-printed textiles. Many families were displaced into new surroundings. But today the market doesn’t realise the difference between an ordinary block print and ajrakh, which is much more laborious and extensive. I personally feel responsible towards the craft as I feel heritage should be preserved and documented through visual art works.”

(The show will travel to The Museum DakshinaChitra in Chennai from October 2 till November 2, 2014 and has also been invited by Gandhi Memorial Centre Washington DC in 2015.)

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