A Parsi gara embroidery sari by Ashdeen Lilaowala
India is considered the repository of a historical textile and handloom tradition. But what is often not fully explored is how through the various junctures in history, Indian designers have also consistently created a new language for textile as well reimagined old narratives within a new context.
To give expression to this idea, Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur, will host an exhibition titled “New Traditions: Influences & Inspirations in Indian Textiles, 1947-2017”. Curated by textile designer and archivist Mayank Mansingh Kaul and designed by art curator Reha Sodhi, this ambitious project is an attempt to chronicle contemporary innovations and revolutionary techniques within age-old textile and handloom traditions. The exhibits include artworks by textile designers, home furnishings, sculptures and, of course, apparel.
A section on Khadi traditions, for instance, traces its origins from Mahatma Gandhi and the freedom struggle and links them to a strikingly modern aesthetic — the denim Khadi of 11.11/eleven eleven, a sustainable prêt label. “An exhibition of this kind would typically be called a ‘survey exhibition’, especially in its exploration of traditions over a 70-year period. But it is not strictly that because of the way the past is juxtaposed with its modern interpretation,” explains Kaul.
Other designers and labels featured include Aneeth Arora, Anavila Misra, Sanjay Garg, Abraham & Thakore, Akaaro, Anokhi, Avani and Bandhej. Some of the artwork on display is also on loan from collections of galleries like The Devi Art Foundation, New Delhi, and collectors such as Lekha and Anupam Poddar, and Priya Paul. There are a total of 70 pieces on display, including rare textiles and large-scale installations.
“We have also tried to depict how designers in India reacted to international design movements such as Modernism and give it a local perspective,” says Kaul. After Modernism came the decorative phase of the 1980s, which relied heavily on embellishments and festive patterns. “The exhibition tries to link that phase to the decorative phase we see today,” he says.
Handprinted chintz by Renuka Reddy
Kaul explains that this is not an effort to find the old in the new, not a harking back to the “good old days” of handloom. “So much of what we see today in textiles is told to be old, dating back centuries at times. But this is an attempt to look at ‘new traditions’, where even if it is an interpretation of a historical technique, it is both dynamic and fresh,” he says. He cites the example of the dupattas are relatively new,” he says.
And yet, bringing textile traditions in conversation with each other is no easy task, especially in an exhibition format. “Our biggest concern was to not have the displays look flat, which was challenging considering it involved inherently flat textiles,” says Sodhi. For this, Kaul and Sodhi have employed display techniques to break the monotony, whether it is by using pedestals to give a sense of “movement” or simply have the textiles hung further away from the wall to add depth.
The 70-year-old Jawahar Kala Kendra’s architecture also plays well with the design of the exhibition. Most exhibitions take place at the Contemporary Gallery, which is spread across two floors. It has three smaller galleries attached to it for supplementary works of art to support the main exhibition. Kaul and Sodhi have flipped that idea, using the smaller galleries as introductions to the wider themes and larger exhibits.
As with the gallery space, this exhibition tries to flip the idea of what constitutes history. “It isn’t a question of the traditional versus the contemporary, but rather looking at the contemporary as tradition,” says Kaul.
The exhibition is scheduled to open to public on June 22 and will be on till July 30 (except Mondays and public holidays) at the Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur