Indigo”, a joint show by Shelly Jyoti and Laura Kina held late December at the capital’s India Habitat Centre, was an art exhibition with a difference. Hanging on the gallery walls were stretches of khadi, dyed, embroidered and block printed by the immigrant Khatri community which came over from Sindh and Balochistan around 1600 and settled in the border regions of Kutch in Gujarat. “Azrak,” says Jyoti, pointing to a series of works called Indigo Narratives: An Allusion to Azrak, “is a kind of indigo-dye resist-print technique that the Khatris brought along with them. Some of the prints you see here are made from blocks that are four hundred years old.”
Art on textiles? Over the years there have been a number of artists, in India or abroad, bringing textiles into their art. “Zarina Hashmi has in the past worked with textiles... Another artist who used textile in the form of the Sanskrit script is Sujata Bajaj from Paris. Darshan Seth of Weaver's Studio Kolkata conducted a workshop a few years ago, in which she made contemporary artists work on textiles. A brilliant result ensued, I recall the work of Jogen Chowdhury ” says Uma Nair, senior art critic. “The idea of using textile in contemporary art was first showcased by Pooja Sood, when she curated shows for Eicher Gallery in the late 90’s.”
More recently, Lo Real Marvilloso, a show commemorating 20 years of Gallery Espace in Delhi, showcased the works of British artist Louise Gardiner who embellishes her bright, colourful canvases with free-motion embroidery, sequins and other textile-based techniques.
That show also had Lavanya Mani, a Baroda-based young painter, who uses natural dyes, appliques and machine embroidery on cotton fabric.
Other artists who similarly paint on fabric or use a fabric as a medium are Manish Nai and Rupal Dave. Jute is Mumbai-based Nai’s calling card (he started working with jute when his father, a jute merchant, lost an order and ended up with a godown full of coloured jute fabric) and he layers paper with jute to make collages and plucks threads to make patterns in his canvases. Dave, a 27-year-old painter from Vadodara, paints on lungis.
It isn’t easy, says Dave, to paint on cloth, with each painting taking as long as a month to finish. But he has persevered with the medium for four years now. “For me it is a symbol of masculinity. Along with the colour red that I mostly use, it becomes an apt metaphor for the violence inherent in man-woman relationships, which is the subject of my work.”
In other words, the message dictates the choice of medium. Which is more or less the case with Jyoti and Kelly in Indigo as well. “I wanted to highlight the violent history of indigo in the colonial times, and draw upon narratives of immigration and modes of transnational economic exchanges,” says Jyoti.
For Kina, her art has always been about “fluidity of cultural difference and the slipperiness of identity”. So the Chicago-based lecturer on art, draws the mended-patchwork form of her works titled “Devon Street Sampler” from Japanese boro quilts.
Prices range between Rs 55,000 and Rs 125,000 (Kina’s are more expensive at Rs 40,000-Rs 5 lakh).
Indigo is currently on show at Nehru Centre, Mumbai