Block-printing can also be therapeutic
Intricately-carved blocks of wood are works of art in their own right. The technique of block-printing combines the skill of two artists — the carver and the printer. And when they come together, they produce heritage pieces that capture and document centuries of Indian tradition. Mulund-resident Shyamala Rao has been practising this art for over 15 years, and her home is a repository of 4,000 blocks collected from different nooks of the country. Rao will teach the basics of block-printing at a workshop organised as part of a pop-up by indie shopping portal Jaypore. What got Rao hooked to blocks, we ask. "I used to exhibit hand painted, dyed and embroidered salwar kurtas. In the early 1990s, I spotted an ad for a five-session workshop by Panna Dossa in Wadala, a first generation entrepreneur from Kutch. She had a saree store on Peddar Road. Post this, I started perfecting the technique. I created pieces for a boutique in Thane for over 15 years."
An intricate block owned by Rao
From India to the US
The genesis of her now popular workshops lies in the US. "My children were studying abroad, I went to The George Washington Textile Museum for an exhibition on ikat and there was hardly any mention of India. I wanted to bring our art into the limelight. I contacted a professor in the textile department at the University of Kansas, requesting for a workshop on block-printing for their students. They were impressed by the session," she says. The professor suggested Rao include samples. The search for samples led Rao to interact and work with karigars, which included living with their families. "The following year, I was able to showcase a lot more. I visited other colleges too. Recently, I also held demos at The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival and the Make in India event," says Rao.
Rao developed an interest in block-printing after attending a workshop by Panna Dossa, who also designed sarees worn by Indira Gandhi
Rao uses pigments instead of natural colours, which need infrastructure such as a furnace where the fabrics are boiled for several hours. The artist has a genuine interest in the art form, which reflects when she shares contact details of block and pigment makers across Mumbai for students to pursue the art beyond the workshop. And, if the investment to build your own block-printing table is huge, she will guide you to places to rent.
Rao and her husband at their Mulund home
What attracts Rao to the technique is its versatility. "Although the basics are the same, the local ingredients used to make block prints make the results different from each other. For example, dabu from Gujarat uses sticky mud from the riverbed nearby. Ajrakh uses more geometric patterns due to the Islamic influence while kalamkari has dense floral motifs. This is because of different historic and geographical factors. I have seen photographs of printers in Iran whose patterns are very similar.
Rao regularly conducts block printing workshops
Motifs in Turkey bear resemblance to our ajrakh patterns. Like batik and ikat, there is a lot of give-and-take that occurred between continents for block-printing too," she signs off.
On: October 12 to 14, (workshop on October 13, 3 pm to 4 pm)
At: Coomaraswamy Hall, CSMVS, Fort.
To register Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or log on to: jaypore.com/block printing
Cost: Rs 1,000
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