What can visitors look forward to at this Kalamkari exhibition?
The art of Kalamkari is also known as Mata Ni Pachedi. It is made by printing and painting on fabric. Although the art is beautiful, it is dying and hence, it’s important to promote it. Therefore, as part of the golden jubilee celebrations of the Contemporary Arts and Crafts, a Kalamkari exhibition has been organised. I curated this exhibition of unusual Kalamkari panels by two Ahmedabad craftsmen and brothers — Vasant and Sanjay Chitra, and selected their most intricate works for this exhibition.
Could you tell us about the technique of making a Kalamakari painting?
Before the decoration of these clothes begins, the material is freed of starch and then bleached by soaking it in a mixture of camel dung and water. The cloth is washed again, this time, in a mixture of salt and cow dung and dried in the sun. Next, it is immersed in water containing caustic soda and castor oil, and dried. Once dried, the cloth is ready for printing. The motifs of the Mata Ni Pachedi are printed and painted with large wooden blocks, using a dye made out of rusted iron soaked for a week in a sugar solution thickened with the flour of tamarind seeds. This reacts with the mordant to produce black colour.
Most spaces in between black printed figures are painted with alum and starch using a chewed tooth-stick or kalam (pen). The cloth is then passed on to dyers who dye them in vats of alozarin (one of the earliest known dyes), which reacts with alum to form a deep red colour. To meet contemporary tastes, the Vagris have introduced other natural colours by adding yellow, blue, orange, rust, grey and even pink, to the colour palette. These are however, not used for religious purposes and are purely decorative.
You are known for your eco-friendly initiatives and your love for Indian crafts. Why did you decide to amalgamate the two?
Like any other eco-friendly initiative, crafts are sustainable too, since they are created using natural dyes, nothing toxic is used, and there is no harm to humans or land. Also, crafts are intangible and it is more important to save intangible heritage than tangible heritage. By reviving a craft, people can help a group of extremely talented people, who in this age of iPhones and iPads are being marginalised. Hence, it is integral to respect our roots and that’s why I do this.
Do you think Indian crafts need more impetus?
The problem today, is that people are forgetting our tradition and everyone seems to be aping the west. If we don’t promote it, who will? We should not live with a borrowed identity, because it’s not our own. Our culture is what makes us what we are. So, by reinterpreting and integrating it, we will enhance our being and not go backwards.