In the month of March, Ruud and I spent 10 days travelling around in Delhi, Jaipur and Ahmedabad. We firstly met our partners and got acquainted with each other, next we visited several craft communities in order to get an understanding of the local craft traditions and finally we were also able to gather information about the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the textile trade during the Golden Age between India and the Netherlands.
Our journey started at the Crafts Museum in Delhi, where we came to learn about block printing techniques originating from the Kutch (Kachchh) region, Gujarat. We saw many chintz examples catering the Western market during the 17th, 18th, 19th century.
Next we travelled to Jaipur, where we visited Anokhi museum of Hand Printing. Anokhi museum tells us the history of block printing and natural dyeing techniques, still existing in various villages across Rajasthan and Gujarat. The patterns used in the textiles have a meaning and tell us about the occupational background of the community you belong to, whether you are from a cow herder or a cobbler community. And if you became a widow, again you would be wearing a different attire. Nowadays these symbols and meanings have disappeared and patterns have become more universal and everyone can wear everything. Also more synthetic fabrics have substituted the cottons, as they are lower in costs.
Following we also talked with Yunus Khimani, director of the City Palace in Jaipur. He explained that the demand of the elite and the folk were completely different for obvious monetary reasons. The maharajahs used to get the most exquisite fabrics made of brocade. Interestingly these master craftsmen used to cater the high-end market, but also make products for the ‘common people’.
In Ahmedabad we visited Calico Museum of Textiles, one of the foremost textile museums in the world. Its outstanding collection of Indian fabrics spanning five centuries showcases handicraft textiles. There are a wide range of textile traditions on display varying from regional embroideries of the 19th century, tie-dyed textiles and religious textiles. The galleries also have exhibits on ritual art and sculpture, temple hangings, miniature paintings, furniture and crafts. The items on display are well protected by the museum authorities in order to extend the life of the textiles.
Back in Delhi we visited Old Delhi’s oldest and busiest market, named Chandni Chowk an ‘open museum’ to see the millions of small wholesale shops a valhalla for anybody interested in textiles. At Kinari Bazar merchants sell here the most vibrant, colourful fabrics, materials, borders, lace, ribbons, textiles and all sorts of haberdashery, one can imagine.
For our visit to Jaipur, Agat Sharma from SIDE, recommended us to visit several places and people. Firstly we visited Pearl Academy itself. Here we mostly talked about the procedures technicalities and formalities of setting-up cross-continental collaborations.
Next we visited the Indian Institute of Crafts & Design (IICD), where we met with Meenakshi Singh Rathore and Meghana Singh. We were received in a showroom, displaying graduates final works and products. The institute is well-equipped for experiments, various working spaces, labs and tools and an adjoined campus. The focus of this institute is on the crafts and often master craftsmen are invited to teach students. Also craftsmen’s children have the opportunity to study at the IICD for an affordable tariff.
At theNational Institute of Design (NID) we had the opportunity to gain a lot of historical knowledge by talking to various renowned faculties: Aditi Ranjan, head of the textile department, who also documented all the handicrafts traditions from entire India in ‘Handmade in India’ gave us many references and good reads for our research. Following we met with V. Sakthivel, who has been teaching fibre and yarn dyeing. His speciality and vast knowledge on natural dyeing traditions, especially indigo is a real asset for our project the Textiel Factorij. And we also had the opportunity to talk with Romanie Jaitly. Her speciality is printed textiles and design and gave us insights about the origins and historical route of block printing.
Around Jaipur we were able to visit Bagru, famous for it’s ‘dabu’ printing techniques and natural dyeing. We got an excellent tour from Ramesh Tailor, giving us a detailed description of the whole process from making natural colours to block printing.
In Sanganer we got the opportunity to meet with Sanjay Chhipa, an alumni from the Indian Institute of Crafts and Design, who took over his father’s business. For his graduation project he conducted research on ‘jamardi’, a particular colouring technique using specific patterns derived from the natural surroundings. Sanjay’s main concern is, whether we are able to revive the block printing technique, and create an actual demand of the product, since it has been substituted by silkscreen.
Pethapur is the hub of block makers. Here we got to learn about the block making industry. We got the opportunity to talk with Mr. Gajjar and his son, Jaimin. Mr. Gajjar is the 4th generation of block makers. His son is able to make blocks, but does not want to make a living out of it. Although he is very interested to find and invent less-time intensive techniques to keep the block making tradition alive.
Neha Gandhi from Matsya joined us in Jaipur, our project partner. She has more than 15 years of experience working closely with craft communities. She translates their arts and crafts traditions to contemporary products. She will be supporting us, sharing her expertise with us in how to collaborate with craft communities.
Shradha Jain from STUDIO.CLOCK.WORKS. is an independent film-maker, researcher and currently studying and reviving the rich cultural heritage of traditional board games and play culture. When we arrived in Ahmedabad, we were received by her. She is our counterpart in Ahmedabad.
Hereby we would like to thank everyone’s readiness, guidance and cooperation in contributing and sharing their knowledge and ideas on various topics encompassing our project the Textiel Factorij.