I am a textiles artist and researcher. I love discovering and documenting textiles from around the world and have a particular passion for Indian textiles. I am currently researching the block printed textiles of North Gujarat and Rajasthan for an MA. I have recently returned from India for the third time when I visited the amazing artisans of Kutch, Gujarat and Rajasthan.
As usual I've been back home for a week now and while looking back through photos and videos I'm already wanting to be back in India.
Because I flew into Mumbai this time, I decided to spend a couple of days there to go to museums, galleries and meet people I had been e-mailing about my research. Unfortunately I hadn't planned it that well, as arriving early on a Saturday morning meant lots of places were closed. One of these places was Paramparik Karigar which I was really disappointed about missing out on. However I was lucky enough to receive a lot of help and contacts from Neela who works with Paramparik. I only wish I could have met her in person.
Neela told me about a block printing family working in busy central Mumbai, an area called Damar Galli. Safaraz Khatri and his father Ahmed Khatri or 'Pracheen' have been hand block printing with natural dyes for over 100 years. They are one of only a few block printing families left in Mumbai, as most move to the suburbs or to rural villages where there is a better supply of water.
I had seen many block printers in the rural villages of Kachchh and those surrounding Jaipur - Sanganeer and Bagru, all places famed for their distinctive block prints. It was really interesting to see some inner city block printing to compare it. I was surprised at how they managed to have enough water for the use of natural dyes being on the top floor of a block on a cramped side alley near Crawford market. They do manage though, and produce some stunning fabrics. Safaraz had spent some time learning from the renowned master Ajrakh block printer Ismail Mohammed in Ajrakhpur, as well as from his father.
They combine the traditional designs seen in Ajrakh with other familiar Indian motifs and patterns. These are often printed on silk and wool, a newly introduced fabric to block printing. These fabrics transform the look and colour of the patterns, making them more contemporary and luxurious.
These intricately printed patterned silks and wools were accompanied by contrasting fabrics of very contemporary bold painterly designs. Still using the natural dyes of deep indigo, henna, pomegranate and more, they were either painting on the dyes or printing with textured blocks.
I was fascinated by Safaraz's experimentation and innovation in creating daring completely new fabrics, but still making sure to hold true to his family's traditions by continuing with the distinctive, timeless patterns that India is so well known for.
Its always a bit of a shock to the system returning to England from India. The cultural differences and climate being the most shocking. Although this time I was quite pleased to return to cold fresh air and sun which made a change from the usual rain or snow that usually welcomes me.
I spent the last few days of the trip in Ahmedabad - one of the top 10 most polluted cities in the world. I have never experienced roads so noisy, smelly, and so packed there isn't even space for pedestrians. Every day I would have at least one 5 minute breakdown after nearly getting hit by a car, bike, rickshaw or cow, being unable to breathe or unable to have a conversation due to the overpowering noise of engines revving and horns honking.
However, something would always uplift my mood and remind me of the reason I love the city. For example, a cute little girl popping her head through a door of flower shaped window panes and calling out to ask say hi and ask my name..
..the peace of the cities' multitude of temples and mosques which exude spiritual calm...
...the intricate carved detailing in the architecture, a feast for the eyes of any creative designer, artist or lover of architecture...
...the resident cow outside the Arts Reverie, our hotel haven providing comfort, tasty food, stylish decor and a home in the heart of the heritage city...
...the hanging textiles adding glorious splashes of colour against the ornate architecture...
...the vibrant colours of the layers of fabric hanging to dry in a block printing workshop and the sound of the pounding blocks and happy singing of the printers while they work...
....and then while trying to squeeze our way down a cramped side street of pushing, honking cars and groups of busy shoppers in Manek Chowk, a man happily carving knives on a machine powered by pedalling his bicycle