Tracing the evolving aesthetics of Indian textiles

Flying Rug, Chandrashekhar Bheda with Mahender Singh (2014) Cotton, Handwoven. Courtesy of the Devi Art Foundation, New Delhi.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Every so often, I Google Jaipur — because something ‘artsy’ is always happening in the Pink City. A few months ago it was new exhibits at the Nahagarh Fort Sculpture Park. Then, large photo installations as part of Jaipur Photo. Now, there is news of a silicone yarn jamdani by designer Rimzim Dadu going up at the Jawahar Kala Kendra. Turns out, it is part of an ambitious project, New Traditions: Influences & Inspirations in Indian Textiles, 1947 - 2017, an exhibition that traces 70 years of Indian textiles.

For people like me who are yet to make the trip, curator Mayank Mansingh Kaul has a few helpful videos. As the camera pans over subtly darkened spaces at the Jawahar Kala Kendra, sumptuous tapestries, rugs, paintings on cloth and saris come into view. Reflecting as it does the fields of art, design, fashion and craft — through 72 works from over 50 artists, designers and organisations — I learn that the show is, unsurprisingly, grabbing multi-industry attention. Artists, designers and editors are heading North for the official launch on July 2, when Kaul will also give guests the first of his weekly personal walk-throughs.

Behind the curation

There is a reason why the exhibition is named New Traditions, the designer-curator tells me over the phone: to underline the fact that despite a craft’s 5,000-year-old tradition, it also belongs to something new, something of the present. “The challenge was to curate works that represent much more than themselves. Like Riten Mazumdar, a Santiniketan artist who worked in Scandinavia before coming back to design for Fabindia. Through his work we’ve talked about the beginnings of the brand as well as his own artistic practise,” he says.


For years, much of Kaul’s writing and curatorial work have addressed the lack of documentation of the post-Independence trajectory that design and textiles have taken. “How do we bring to the public, perspectives of what India has been through in such fields? While earlier I looked at individual histories (like 50 years of Ritu Kumar or a show three years ago on urban practices in textiles at the Devi Art Foundation), this exhibition has helped me bring all of my learnings and observations together, because its scope is much larger. This has been very satisfying,” he says.

Divided into five segments, each looks at predominant aesthetics reflected in handloom textiles. Kaul breaks it down:

Nationalist movement: “While we know about khadi, there were Benaras brocade lehengas in the ’40s depicting the national flag, reflecting patriotic sentiments in a different way. We update this period with the denim khadi being made today (Himanshu Shani of 11:11). So I’m linking the origin of an aesthetic and a certain kind of idea in textile, to the present.”

International modernism: “In the ’50s, Nehruvian ideas of architecture and industrialisation reflected in a more global aesthetic. The modern art movement found expression here — be it in the designs of Le Corbusier tapestries at the Chandigarh Complex or in hand-block printing, which, for a bit, moved away from traditional decorative motifs. Today, this connects with a brand like Shyam Ahuja in dhurries, or to the designs of Abraham & Thakore, who work with handmade textiles like ikat, but with a modernist vocabulary.”

Return to roots: “The ’70s and ’80s saw an intense period of revival that gave birth to early designers like Ritu Kumar and brands like Anokhi. This links to work being done today, whether in the bridal industry or the explosion of embroideries. We’ve exhibited 17 pieces — from Sanjay Garg to Bengaluru-based Renuka Reddy who has revived chintzes.”


Metaphor for sculpture: “This breaks away from the rest, to look at how artists have expressed the idea of textiles three dimensionally. The aesthetic here is of unconventional materials: Rimzim’s jamdani, artist Sharmila Samant’s Thumbs-Up bottle cap sari, Aneeth Arora who’s made a tent out of lace, or artist Manisha Parekh who uses jute to make sculptural forms.”

Indian minimalism: “The last segment focusses largely on today’s minimalist aesthetic — through designs by Rajesh Pratap Singh, Rahul Mishra and Amit Aggarwal, the felted rugs of Ahmedabad-based Jigisha Patel, shibori experiments by Coimbatore artist Neha Puri Dhir, and Anavila’s linen sari that has added an interesting new material in handlooms. We are also showcasing Beej, the brand that’s reinventing Asha Sarabhai’s iconic silhouettes.”


At Jawahar Kala Kendra till July 31, between 11 am and 7 pm. Details:

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Printable version | Apr 29, 2021 9:13:32 PM |

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