Travels in Textiles


Sunday, 24 January 2010

Ah the peace of village life

I've been in Bhuj two days and it makes a nice change from hectic Ahmedabad. Although its quite busy, its small, easy to get around
and my hotel is in the old town not close to any main roads - not that this makes it that much quieter. There's a constant tooting of horns from rickshaws and motor bikes which seem to be
infesting the city. Every road looks like the hell angels have parked all the way down it or there's a constant motor bike rally.

Its much busier than when I was last here. More hotels have opened too and the crafts industry seems to be booming with more and more shops and galleries opening selling the work of the villages all over Kutch. The tourism is realising the attraction that the local crafts have all over the world and are beginning to promote this to give Bhuj a more prominent position on the tourist map.

I was lucky to visit Kala Raksha yesterday in Sumrasar village where I worked for 6 weeks 2 years ago. I managed to catch Judy before the classes at th
e Vidyalaya (design school for artisans) start on Monday. I wandered round the village and met up with some old friends. I drank far too much chai as every house insisted on feeding it me.

It was nice to see the artisans who were studying at the design
school when I was last here, have now graduated and are producing some really nice work. Ramjibhai, a weaver when I saw him last was producing woven pieces that were good quality but too plain and uninteresting for
the current market. He's now experimenting with texture and colour and producing some lovely contemporary pieces.

One of the much older artisans Meghiben now also works with patchwork. She used to embroider but she no longer has good enough eye sight for looking at the fine details. She has won many awards and has had her work published in magazines and books with the help of Judy and Kala Raksha. Shes' quite a character and when I saw her gave me lots of pats and hugs and showed me all her work and articles published about it with much pride. Currently narrative work is the
trend for the patchwork artisans and Meghiben's most celebrated piece is the story of her life. Shes' also rece
ntly done a piece narrating Ghandiji's life. An animation film has recently been made of these pieces which I was given so can't wait to watch!
The co-founder Prakashbhai' s family live next door to KR and Raniben Prakash's mother also does patchwork. She showed me a narative piece which is telling the story of her trip to Australia for an exhibition there. Also a lively character she remembered me as 'girl from the rann' as I stayed with the family in amud bhunga during a desert festival showcasing the crafts of Kutch called 'Rann Ustav'

So after enjoying some peace and quite and the slowness of village life it was back to Bhuj and I had the pleasure of having dinner with Judy to top off the day nicely!

I have finally had the time to get some drawing done today, looking a lot at patterns in architecture. The Aina Mahal and Prag Mahal are two amazing palaces near by. A lot of the area is filled with rubble since the earthquake, but the beautiful carvings and shapes survived and provide much inspiration.

With these drawings I plan to produce some designs for blocks which I hope to get made while I' here so I can start printing when I get home. Tomorrow I visit Ajrakpur where I'll meet some of the ajrakh block printers and document the process.

Watch a video about the story of Kala Raksha:

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Jaipur - block printing, havelis, palaces, music and dancing

It feels like I've been in India ages even though its not even been a week. It seems that on first arriving you're in a state of shock and all a bit disorientated as its so different from home, but then after a day or so when you remember all the Indian way of life, the funny situations you get in, annoyances and rules to follow it starts to become quite normal.

Now in Ahmedabad to re-join the group. The warm weather was very welcome, although I can tell I'll soon be complaining its too hot!

I've been in Jaipur for 2 days. I wish I'd stayed longer as discovered loads more interesting places to visit that would be useful for my research. But on first arriving and realising a lot of trains were booked up to go to Ahmedabad I panicked and bought a ticket for Saturday arriving 2am Sun morning. This was the only availability until Tues although I could have gone 'tatka' if I left it another day. (still haven't quite managed to perfect the train booking system here- even though I've spent 6 months here before!)

Luckily I was picked up from the station by two of the DIA students who came onto my carriage - which was also lucky as I had been asleep thinking there was another hour till arriving at Ahmbad - felt rather silly when I sat bolt upright banging my head on the above bed as he came to wake me up, then rushed out with my shoes half on and grabbing all my stuff in my arms! I apologised and thanked them profusely but they didn't seem to mind. Can't tell if they were hiding how pissed off they were or were genuinely used to that kind of thing as they were pretty laid back.

Ahmedabad is very different from Jaipur although I like both in different ways. Jaipur is very touristy but that is because there is so many places to visit and interesting things to see. It does create problems like when trying to walk anywhere you are constantly followed by auto or cycle rickshaws shouting 'hello madam', 'where are you going?'. 'auto?'. And then if you need a ride not being able to avoid them wanting your whole life story: 'what is your name', 'where are you from' etc etc. However Ahmedabad being not so touristy means hardly any of the auto drivers speak English, so its a nightmare trying to get anywhere unless you have a guide or translator.

In Jaipur I managed to visit the quaint haveli in Amber where the Anokhi museum of hand-printing is situated. The visit makes for a peaceful getaway from the madness of the city. The small track winding through the stone houses, wandering goats and playing children leads to a magnificently restored haveli - 'an enclosed place' in Persian, and traditionally a frescoed temple or mughal style courtyarded house.

There is a coffee shop selling the famous Anokhi cakes and coffee, which I indulged in from time to time while working in the Anokhi design studio last year, a brief taste of home. This can be taken in the pretty garden at the front. On entering the exhibits line the edges of the building, and up winding staircases onto wider floors above. On the top in the sunlit courtyard sits a block carver tapping away with his chisel, carving beautiful, intricate designs. He will make you a print if you ask nicely. Looking through the window there are lovely views of the hills and it being near the time of the kite festival while I was there, boys jumping about the crags flying their brightly coloured kites. So all in all, a perfect place to study the area's renowned block printing. And of course there is a shop...

I went to Sanganeer outside of Jaipur, another area known for its block printing particularly during moghul rule when Persian influences were prevalent. I visited here during my work placement at Anokhi and saw blocks being carved as well as the the printing that continues the moghul style motifs mixed with other influences.

There is a company called Rangotri there which supplies these prints to furnishing companies all over the world. It is a quiet airy factory, a nice working environment for the printers and tailors. There is also a shop and showroom for buyers. Vikram, the founder was very helpful in answering questions for my research and showing me around.

I was lucky to be in the city when a Rajasthani folk concert at diggi palace hotel was being held. This was organised by Georgie whom we met during our Anokhi work placement, and is working with the Jaipur Virisat Foundation. It was in a lovely setting of a huge maharaja palace turned hotel, the room was painted with flowers and had huge chandeliers on the ceiling. A pretty courtyard in the surroundings of the impressive architecture was a romantic setting for a meal or just chilling out. Jaipur is a strange city in that way, like the rest of India, full of contrasts. You get to this hotel going down a scruffy road with run down buildings and people sleeping on the streets. It is as if you have to be reminded of the less fortunate and made to feel guilty for having the chance to visit such a beautiful place.

The concert was two halves. First some quiet peaceful folk music of three musicians - a tabla player, sitar player and a guy on water filled ceramic pots - they made a lovely sound similar to a glockenspiel. Then there was some dancing along to musicians playing lively rhythms. Everyone was encouraged to join in the dancing, but I followed British tradition by staying put - Didn't feel so daring being on my own!

I have discovered a lovely guide book for Jaipur 'Love Jaipur, Rajasthan' , not yet launched but was on sale in a anantaya - another design studio and shop, so I bought it, couldn't resist. The author will be back in Jaipur for the literature festival nearer the end of the month. On reading this was when I realised all the other places of interest I could have visited. Its a specific guide book that is very useful for art lovers, food lovers, and generally lovers of Indian culture. Its printed on hand-made paper and comes in a canvas case. Has a nice plain text with quirky illustrations. I recommend it highly!

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Cold weather but a warm welcome

I know England is freezing and I should have been used to the cold, but I was expecting India to be warm and its not! Its very cold in Delhi and strangely foggy which creates an eerie atmosphere and you can't see beyond your immediate surroundings. The dramatic thunderstorm we awoke to this morning was even more strange for the this time of year, glad I'm not up in the mountains!

Because all the buildings are built to keep you cool in the hot weather, the climate Delhi sees for most of the year, its very hard to get warm. You end up wrapping up in a million layers and looking really silly. Looking forward to traveling further south where it is warm and sunny!

Although the weather was unexpectedly cold, we arrived to a very warm welcome. On arriving at the DIA university in Delhi we were welcomed with vermilion bindhis on our foreheads and gifts of roses, we felt like royalty! We were later told that guests in India are treated as if they are gods - they definitely show this and always make time to look after you and make sure you are ok. Such a nice change from the too busy English!

Our first day was spent seeing sights around Delhi, the mughal forts and ruins. Much of the day was spent driving. DIA is situated in Noida, a seperate suburb of the city. Getting anywhere takes ages normally with the traffic anyway, but they are building a tram line and many of the roads have diversions. There's enough entertainment on the roads of India for it not to be boring though!
The sights were very interesting although hard to concentrate on the history when being followed by gawping men, making us feel more like celebrities being papped than royalty. We could not understand why. I was quite used to it having spent time in India before, but the rest of the girls didn't know how to react feeling a mix of amusement and anger. I think a group of young western girls is something of a novelty for them! You find yourself in a culture clash, the boys pointing camera phones in our faces without asking, trying and failing to be discreet, and us being too polite and English and too embarrassed to tell them to stop. You end up just laughing it off and accepting it is just a massive contrast in culture and we'll never completely understand each other!

The business and craziness of inner-city Delhi knackered us enough to get a long well needed sleep last night. I'm now ready to start on work. Although, the students are holding a welcome party for us today...
I can tell I am not going to get as much done as intended, it never seems to happen in India, too many unexpected surprises!
Funny Indian quotes:
'I'm no ordinary man', 'I make you happy, you make me happy' - tour guide at the Red Fort

Monday, 4 January 2010

Return to India

January 4th - The end of christmas and new year and back to normality, work and the monotonous trudge of everyday life.
Not for me though as I'm off to India for 3 weeks! Exciting, well sort of. Its not quite a holiday, as it is more a 'study' or 'research' visit. I have spent 6 months in India before, so it doesn't feel quite as much of an adventure.

I'm a bit fed up of the snow now so looking forward to the warmth. January's the best month to go as its generally the coldest in Gujarat where I will be, which means its about as warm as our summer!

I'm looking forward to seeing the people and places I feel I got to know well last time. The welcoming families of the villages of Kutch. I worked for a small organisation called Kala Raksha - a grass-roots trust working with the local textile artisans to preserve the traditional arts and provide sustainable livelihoods. It was an informal arrangement, having arranged it myself after being introduced to the founder Judy through Carole Douglas who ran the textiles tour I went on previously - Desert Traditions and Textile Treasures.

showing off our bandhani on the tour
The tour took us travelling round Kutch visiting the villages and artisans, joining in with the crafts, meeting lovely people, eating tasty food and experiencing fascinating traditions. We also stayed in Ahmedabad to sight-see, shop and immerse ourselves in the city crafts.
After the tour I went on to work with Kala Raksha. I was helping revive old products that weren't selling by adapting them or re-designing them. By the end of the 6 weeks I was there I hadn't done as much work as was originally planned as so many other events got in the way. There were weddings, a festival in the desert (see picture above -some of the ladies of KR outside a traditional decorated mud hut - just been built for festival), and travelling the 3 hour drive down to Tunda Vandh where the Kala Raksha Vidyhalaya, the design school was situated.
Rabari wedding

A re-visit to KR this time will help keep in contact in hope that I will do more work with them in future.
I will also be re-visiting Anokhi near Jaipur in Rajasthan, where I spent a 2 month design placement near the end of 2008 after returning for the second time to India. (I was first there January to March 2008). With 3 other students from Brighton, I produced a selection of painted designs intended for block print patterns, had a go at block-printing in a few of the nearby villages and enjoyed chilling it out in the farm of the Anokhi compound. This included swimming in the pool, watching films in their mini cinema , eating home-cooked organic food and relaxing in our comfortable cottages. That is a time well missed!
Anokhi fabric hanging to dry. Indigo dyeing in the village of Jahota

I am currently writing my proposal for my MA by Research which I began in September 2009. This trip was not originally planned, I wanted to be more prepared and know in detail my research before taking a visit! But there was a group already going from the university so it means I get to go free, I couldn't possibly afford to miss such an opportunity! Only problem is now I have to do lots of work in less time so I know exactly where I will visit, who to see etc. I'd better be getting on with it, I'm off in a week!