The yarns of Rema Kumar

Rema Kumar working on adapting Pipli appliqué to Chanderi textiles  

Rema Kumar is coming next week to the city with an exhibition called Textile Tales that will have stoles, dupattas, saris and sari blouses. I am excited as every time I have met Kumar, I have come back richer not just by a sari or two but by the amount of things I learn from her about weavers and handlooms.

She says this interest among people to know more encouraged her and her husband Puneet to organise a residency this year called ‘Excavating Odisha’, the first of many they hope to curate in the country. Kumar describes it as an intense, interactive collaboration between a few chosen Indian contemporary artists and folk artists of Raghurajpur, Odisha. “Puneet and I have been working with weavers and craftsmen for over two decades and have enjoyed the journey. Many of our artist friends wondered if they could get an opportunity to collaborate with the artisans. This gave birth to Manthan: Bridging the Gap, a residency that brings contemporary and traditional art forms together on the same platform with the resulting artworks representing the best of both worlds.”

Incorporating the patachitra tradition into textiles

Incorporating the patachitra tradition into textiles  

Odisha was the natural choice to start with, says Kumar. “There are so many traditional art forms like Patachitra, Talapatra (palm leaf engraving), papier maché, coir work, Ganjifa, terracotta, the exquisite Ikat/banda textiles, Gotipua and Odissi dance forms to name a few. So we chose Puri as our base, and worked with artisans from Raghurajpur and neighbouring villages. I was fortunate to work with three different art and textile traditions: Gamcha weaves, Pipli appliqué and Patachitra.

A collection of gamcha dupattas, incorporating the forgotten butis of morpakhis and prajapatis

A collection of gamcha dupattas, incorporating the forgotten butis of morpakhis and prajapatis  

“I call Odisha the Gamchaland because, the minute you step out, you find men — most of them shirtless in the humidity and heat — with gamchas (something like an angavastram) flung casually across their shoulders. The pandas (priests), especially at the Jagannathji and Lingaraj temples, wear beautiful ikat gamchas and dhotis woven specially for them. At Brahman Alandia, a village close to Raghurajpur, they weave only basic off-white gamchas throughout the day all year round. Inspired by them, I designed a collection of gamcha dupattas, incorporating the forgotten butis of morpakhis and prajapatis (peacocks and butterflies).” While Kumar will bring her collection of gamcha dupattas to Coimbatore, the gamcha saris are still a work in progress.

Kumar also collaborated with Chandamani Mohanty, who heads a group of women specialising in the appliqué work in Pipli. Pipli appliqué owes its origin to the Jagannath temple, and is well known for the canopies and umbrellas. Kumar brought that to her collection of Chanderi hand-blocked saris, stoles and dupattas with vibrant motifs of butterflies, birds, girls and village scenes.

Talapatra block printing on stoles

Talapatra block printing on stoles  

“As for the Patachitra tradition, the colourful scroll-paintings and Talapatra, the delicate palm-leaf engravings that depict characters and scenes from Hindu mythology, have always fascinated me. Since my work in Odisha began three months before the actual residency, I visited different weaving villages and hit upon the idea of developing blocks inspired by the delicate borders and motifs. These hand-blocked stoles became the backdrop for the Patachitra artisan to add his touch by painting the mythical figures of Navagunjara, Kamadhenu, Matsyakanya, Airavat, Garuda on the pallu.” And Coimbatore will get to see the range of black-and-white, black-and-off-white saris and stoles inspired by the Patachitra traditions.

Kumar is currently also involved in a project with women weavers in Assam. “I was moved by their quiet strength and positive attitude despite their tough life. They weave only after their daily chores and other issues have also slowed down their output. I will be working on tribal weaves and motifs that are vanishing thanks to power looms. Many people from the indigenous tribes have left their villages to earn a livelihood, leaving their looms behind. I enjoy the slow weaving process here and am excited about the design intervention, innovation and in some weaves, a revival.” Kumar says that the Assam collection should be ready in 2018.

Textile Tales

At Whispering Stones, No 1, BRCF, Perks Arch Road on September 13 and 14 from 10.00 am to 7.00 pm

Expect to see Ajrakh, Batik, Handblocks, Kalamkari and Shibori, besides the appliqué work of Pipli (Odisha) and Patti Ka Kaam (Aligarh) on stoles, dupattas and saris. There will also be handwoven saris in Kota, linen, cottons, Uttara, Maheshwari, Chanderi and Tussars. Pick from a limited edition collection of mix and match blouses. The Manthan collection inspired from Odisha includes Patachitra stoles, Pipli work embellished textiles and pristine cream Gamcha dupattas. There will also be silver and semi-precious jewellery.

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 6:47:29 PM |

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