Resplendent in a bright yellow silk sari, Shovana Narayan glides on a ramp. With an elegant twirl, she flaunts the decorative pallu of her sari, created from two of artist Niren Sengupta’s famous paintings titled “Buddha’s Blessings” and “Joy of Abundance”. The graceful Kathak danseuse, after all, is no stranger to the stage. “I wanted to walk the ramp like a dancer, not a model,” she smiles.
Minutes later, Kathak maestro Birju Maharaj walks across the ramp with great poise. The audience — a gathering of 80-odd people including art connoisseurs, gallery owners, fashion designers and artists, of course — stands up in applause for the “showstopper”. The Kathak maestro drapes a colourful silk stole across his torso, in hues of black, blue and orange, created from Alka Raghuvanshi’s “Silence of Solitude” series.
On a chilly evening at The Claridges in Delhi, Narayan and Maharaj, along with 30 other icons from art, music, theatre and dance, walked the ramp for “Ehsaas”, an exhibition showcasing saris, stoles, ties and handbags created from works of art. Kuchipudi dancer Rashmi Vaidialingam flaunted a sari created from Sengupta’s “Krishna Lifting the Govardhana”. Mohiniattam dancer Vijaylakshmi showcased Sanjay Bhattacharya’s love for Benaras — her sari carried the motifs of “On the Ghats of Banaras”.
Ehsaas takes the works of contemporary artists to create “wearable art” by transposing their paintings on to hand-woven fabric using digital transference — the technique ensures that the colours of the paintings wouldn’t be affected. The result is a collection of over 25 works — dramatic silk saris, ties, luxuriant silk stoles and even handbags ranging from the popular batuas of yore to the present-day chic ones. All the pieces are on display at contemporary and traditional clothing store Ekaya in Defence Colony, launched in Delhi two months ago.
“I love abstract art and wanted to wear a sari with abstract art on it,” says a smiling Raghuvanshi, the woman behind Ehsaas. Her pursuit for the “perfect sari”, she says, took her across Chanderi, Maheshwar, Benaras, Srinagar, Imphal, and Behrampur. While she owns an enviable collection of saris, she was looking for something more “unique”.
And that was the trigger for the project. In the course of the next one year, Raghuvanshi sought out all her favourite artists across the country. Along with Ekaya’s director, Deepak Shah, Raghuvanshi narrowed down the list of artists to five — Sengupta, Bhattacharya along with Manisha Gawade, Shridhar Iyer and herself. While it wasn’t hard to convince them to join the project or walk the ramp along with their “models”, transposing their immense talent and vision on a few metres was a lot of hard work, says Raghuvanshi.
In the following months, the five artists dug out their favourite works and catalogues with long forgotten images. “We reshot the works, and even tried to recreate some so that they would work on a sari,” explains Raghuvanshi. Along with Raghunath Haldar who helped in developing designs, Raghuvanshi redesigned the placement of some of the motifs on tussar silk since that fabric was closest to the texture of the paintings.
As curator, Raghuvanshi chose Sengupta for his joyous colours and “seeing” icons such as Krishna and Rama, and Bhattacharya for his enthralling depiction of rural India. Iyer’s “Jatra” series, with its juxtaposition of colours and metallics encapsulates the abstract genre, feels Raghuvanshi. Iyer, who strutted across the ramp with a silk stole created from his works, flipping his thick mane of white hair (almost akin to a seasoned model), adds, “Not many know, but I was a theatre actor before I began painting. I have no stage fright!”
Gawade’s stark, minimalistic paintings from “Mindscapes of Mindspaces”, “Threads of life” and “The Constant Presence” have been used to create fetching handbags, stoles and edgy ties in gold, silver and copper. Raghuvanshi’s own work has been used to create feminine textures in deep indigo, antique gold and dazzling reds. “Museums across Europe have always supported such collaborations [between art and fashion]. In India, people have been hesistant to do this because the process is laborious and expensive. But we have managed to pull it off!"
Ehsaas is on display at Ekaya till December 31