A resplendent yellow Maheshwari sari made with the age old composition, garbh reshmi , is paired with a ‘jaal’ or a brocade blouse with floral motifs; a cape worn by the erstwhile royal Maharaja Yeshwantrao Holkar is recreated using a lining of four pedal textile, a technique that gives it its inimitable nubby feel. These two textile pieces are a part of an installation that celebrates the Maheshwari handloom. Created at the royal house of the Holkars in Maheshwar earlier this year, the installation is a collaboration between the Holkar family and textile designer Sanjay Garg. It is one of the four works on display in the second edition of The Karkhana Chronicles, a digital exhibition that went online on April 24.
Initiated by The Refashion Hub, a collective that brings together multiple stakeholders from the textile industry on themes like wastewater reuse, it has begun a conversation on social equity and climate action through the lens of heritage crafts. Vincy Abraham of the collective says, “India has a history of sustainability ingrained in its textile practices that we must amplify. Karkhana Chronicles becomes even more crucial and relevant as a platform given the pandemic, as artisans are suffering a major loss of livelihoods.”
Fair fashion for artisans
The initiative’s idea came to Akshita Bhanj Deo, 28, the project’s creative director, when she saw the devastation COVID-19 had caused to the artisan community. The new generation Mayurbhanj royalty — who opened the doors of her family property, the Belgadia Palace, as a luxury getaway in 2019 — began to ideate on ways to create sustainable livelihoods for artisans. “They have always been part of erstwhile kingdoms and have reposed trust in them. Among the displaced were master craftsmen, and I understand what their role was in the field; I had an idea to connect historical properties and communities,” says Deo.
She then reached out to her generation of the royal houses and pitched the idea to them. It was to include their historic properties (palaces, forts, iconic landmarks) working in the arts, and have them directly use their digital platforms and premises to connect consumers with local artisan clusters. In August 2020, the first edition of Karkhana Chronicles hosted installations curated by the royal houses of Gwalior, Jaisalmer, and Mayurbhanj. It showcased their textile history and carried the message of their campaign of fair fashion and climate justice.
Repository for South Asian art
The royal houses of Kathiawad, Mysore, Indore, and Bhavnagar are participants of the second edition. Following the launch of the exhibition, the seven participating royal heirs — Yeshwantrao Holkar, Akshita Bhanj Deo, Sangita Kathiwada, Brijeshwari Gohil, Chaitanya Raj Singh, Yaduveer Wadiyar, and Priyadarshini Raje Scindia — engaged in a discussion on ‘Contemporary Patronage: Celebrating sustainability through heritage craft’. “The immediate vision was to provide India’s different artisan clusters a livelihood through commissioned pieces and installations at iconic properties. The broader vision through KCII was to build a digital repository that documents south Asian art,” adds Deo.
Founder of Mumbai’s multi-designer store, Mélange, Sangita Kathiwada has re-imagined the kasota weave (traditionally used as loin cloth by the men of tribal communities in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat) in the installation at Raaj Mahal, Kathiwada City House. The installation that uses kasota also showcases a bamboo jacket, exquisitely crafted bead jewellery, and a hand-block bagh print garment piece. “We should not romanticise our palaces and Maharajas but make our cultural inheritance more relevant. We must address the relationship between the user, contemporary design, and traditional skill. I would like to see the actual user be right on top of the chain,” says Kathiwada.
Yaduveer KC Wadiyar’s installation at Mysore — a gorgeous Mysore silk sari paired with a utilitarian khadi jacket — promotes the idea of power dressing in an Indian context. Conceptualised by the new generation of royals that included him, his wife, Trishika Kumari, and sister Jayathmika Lakshmi, the installation also has hand-painted ganjifa cards, Channapatna toys, and the heritage craft of Navalgund dhurries. “It highlights empowerment, modernity and the liberal minds of the erstwhile kingdom of Mysore, sartorially,” says Wadiyar, the 29-year-old royal custodian.
At Nilambag Palace in Bhavnagar, Brijeshwari Gohil engaged designer Adaa Mallikk to create “our own bandhani textile” and designed a gown using it. “The sari is now being worn in versatile ways. We need to create a ‘trend’ factor for Indian textiles to match foreign brands, to get the required local response,” says Gohil on this Western creation.
Collabs for the future
Looking back, the “seven ambassadors” as Deo calls them, felt that the need of the hour was to create a platform that retailed last year’s unsold backlog of artisans. Looking ahead, they hoped to address sustainable packaging and other issues related to circular fashion in India. “It would be great to collaborate with platforms, research institutions, and start-ups to build a hub whereby stakeholders can push for innovation. A platform that brings into the digital fold the next million artisans,” she concluded.
The Karkhana Chronicles can be viewed at karkhanachronicles.in