The 17th-century English explorer Edward Terry wrote of his go to to India: “The natives there present very a lot ingenuity of their curious manufactures, as of their silk stuff, which they most artificially weave, some very neatly mingled both with silver or gold or each…”
It’s these glowing, glistening, lustrous “silk stuffs” which might be the topic of a blinding exhibition on the Nationwide Crafts Museum & Hastkala Academy in New Delhi, this month. Vayan – The Artwork of Indian Brocades is the second in a sequence of small however vital textile exhibitions, curated by Mayank Mansingh Kaul for the Devi Basis, in collaboration with the Nationwide Crafts Museum. Representing a interval broadly from the 19th century to the current, the displays are drawn from each their collections.
Watch | Textile exhibition ‘Vayan’ in New Delhi
Coming into the exhibition, your eyes modify to a darkish black void from which step by step emerge luminous patches of radiant color. Every of the six sections highlights completely different weaving types from all around the nation linked by widespread visible, aesthetic and technical attributes — Banaras, after all, and Kanjeevaram, but additionally textiles from Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Central India.
Lots of the items are saris or odhnis with ornate ornamental pallavs and powerful, deep colors — crimson, magenta, orange — and broad, patterned gold-edged borders. Stylised paisleys, each as finish items and as decorative konia corners, are a recurring characteristic, as are trailing floral arabesques and stylised roses and poppies. Included are brocades utilizing advanced hand-weaving methods, similar to luxurious samites, lampas and velvets, in addition to lighter chanderis and tissues, and the now extinct gethwa strategy of Varanasi. Ingeniously designed by Reha Sodhi, one of many delights of this exhibition is that, regardless of the comparatively small area, every exhibit could be seen in isolation, and due to this fact has its personal dramatic affect.
I used to be delighted to see a celebration of my favorite, however much less recognized, Paithani and Asavalli saris: their boring golds, tawny pinks, mulberrys and olive greens so refined each in color and patterning. The exhibition options a number of placing modern items with extra summary, bolder designs, similar to a pop art-inspired gyaser, exhibiting the vary and flexibility of the medium.
Benefit from the ‘little dream’
The title ‘Vayan’ is from Hindi, referring to the artwork of weaving. Identified in India from historical occasions, brocade was known as hiranya or fabric of gold in Vedic literature, whereas in Gupta occasions it was generally known as puspapata, or fabric with woven flowers. Kimkhab is one other phrase, derived from the Persian, nonetheless typically used for Indian brocade. It has a poetic twin which means — “slightly dream” and “woven flower” — each evocative of its intricate, dreamlike, typically floral, patterns.
These extraordinary Indian brocades, woven with silk and gold or silver thread, are characterised by their raised floral or figured motifs and designs, launched throughout weaving by way of the additional warp course of. This was historically completed by a nimble fingered younger boy, until Joseph Marie Jacquard’s loom and punchcards changed him within the early 19th century. In India although, the older strategies continued alongside for much longer.
Textile methods got here to us from all around the world, to be remodeled by India’s eclectic magic into our personal distinctive indigenous traditions. Silk initially got here to India from China; Chinese language rulers forbade the export of silkworms, however they had been smuggled in (so the story goes) by Chinese language Buddhist monks within the hole shafts of their canes. India is now the world’s second largest silk producer, although China nonetheless leads the best way.
There are 21st century echoes of this historical rivalry. Presently, guardians of India’s craft traditions are up in arms on the Chinese language usurping lots of our conventional expertise. There was an outcry at South Indian silk weavers being taken to China to show Chinese language weavers how one can weave Kanjeevaram saris, and India is flooded with shiny, inferior however cheaper Chinese language silk yarn whereas we neglect our personal mulberry silk cultivation.
Drama past the weaves
Each bit in Vayan demonstrates the completely different aspects of brocade. It may be crisp and metallically shiny, or delicate and flowing with a delicate luminous sheen, terribly sensuous. The encyclopaedic rationalization for the attributes of silk — “The shimmering look for which it’s prized comes from the fibre’s triangular prism-like construction, which permits silk fabric to refract incoming gentle at completely different angles” — doesn’t in any respect convey its attract.
On the exhibition, a glass case with a bolt of brocade tissue scrunched into delicate, iridescent folds, superbly illustrates that magic, simply as a three-dimensional set up (by artist Astha Butail in collaboration with Uncooked Mango) on the halfway level of the exhibition illustrates its drama.
The abilities that wove these textiles are very a lot alive; nor are the displays uncommon archival objects. As I walked round, murmured voices talked about an identical piece in a marriage trousseau, or inherited from a grandmother. So, simply as brocaded silks delicately circulate and shimmer and but have a tensile energy, Vayan, too, isn’t just an ornamental window to a misplaced cultural and aesthetic previous; it’s a doorway that might open to thrilling new design futures in each trend and craft.
On view on the Nationwide Crafts Museum & Hastkala Academy, New Delhi, until March 19.
The author is chairperson-founder member of Dastkar, Society for Crafts & Craftspeople.