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Fashioning gender neutral clothes

Wajahat Rather is a beautiful young man. He reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s description of his character Dorian gray in the book ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray.’ And so do his edgy yet simple aesthetics which take reference from Kashmiri roots of arts and crafts for fashioning gender neutral clothing. I was lucky to have visited Paiwand’s studio and serendipitously rediscover Raffughar’s SS19 as they share their workspace in Noida, U.P. That day itself, I reconnected with him in a desperate need to celebrate Eid donning a truly sublime young conscious label. From thereon we began exchanging emails to get a lowdown on his work and life.ARP_1865

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All for the love of handloomed waste

Don’t know what to term this unfortunate situation as …evolution or extermination? From Sunder Nagri to the neighbouring towns of Delhi, Ashita Singhal of Paiwand – a fresh fashion design graduate combed for weavers late last year and realized that the community was on the brink of extinction. Their derelict units brought tears to her eyes. She sat there listening to the sordid stories of their existence. They were willing to do anything to survive. Rs.80 was the meager income they earned despite weaving a good amount everyday.

Their plight strengthened her resolve to provide dignity of labour to many such weavers who knew no other craft to earn a living. Her up-cycling fabric venture was actually a final year post-graduation project. She won the 2018 the Global James McGuire Business Plan Competition for sustainable fashion waste management. In it, upcycle textile waste from fashion designers is turned into designer fabric. With a grant of 25k US dollars an ambitious business was set up.

The 24 year old budding designer does realize being ethical is difficult for the final product cost goes up but it is the need of the hour. And agrees to rampant green washing being done in the name of sustainability by many in her industry. But speaks of it as a long-​term structural shift with the goal of reducing environmental and resource consumption for the sake of our future generations.

color blanket

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A realist, and dark artist’s tryst with embroidery

I avoid horror films or anything dark but this embroidery art drew my cynosure because of its brightly coloured beads and threadwork. Using colours and embellishment his artworks lighten heady realism of unrest and extremism today. Presently, working on his next exhibit is the artist – Theegulla Venkanna, at Kalhath Institute, Lucknow. Founded by Lucknow Design Trust in 2017, the centre promotes and trains to sustain the craft of Indian embroiderers in Uttar Pradesh.

Touted to be one of Gen Y’s most promising artists, Venkanna’s achievements as cited on the Gallery Maskara website speaks volumes. 2019 began for him with a solo project Tradition/Transformation curated by Abhay Maskara at Gallery Maskara, Mumbai. In 2018 he participated in an exhibition Inde at Manoir de Martigny, Switzerland. 2017 saw his seventh solo show Looking for Peace at Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai. Brilliantly slotted, in 2016, he was part of a group show TIME, again at Gallery Maskara. His sixth solo show CELEBRATION tooin 2015, was at the same gallery.

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The Chamar Project

Wearing his OBC badge proudly is Sudheer Rajbhar, who as per Indian media is successfully breaking the glass ceiling in the snooty art and design world. Looking beyond his caste story  is equality of status through work. One is drawn to his skill and out-of-the-box business model as forces to reckon with. This brand of minimalist accessories is about ‘Made in Dharavi’ – the second largest slum in Asia after Orangi Town in Karachi, Pakistan. While the cherry on the cake are the design conscious stores – Le Mill, Paper Boat Collective, Pepper House Kochi and Indian Goods Co. carrying it.

In 2010, Rajbhar completed his art education from Vasai Vikasini College of Visual Arts, in Thane district. The attitude of bigger galleries not entertaining people from small art schools weighed him down. Yet he continued, by assisting senior artists and learning at residencies. 

Curious to know this activist artist’s trajectory, we exchanged emails and telephonic conversations regarding reasons that led to the brand ‘Chamar’‘s meteoric rise.

MD: While growing up whose creativity left you seeking for more?

SR: Coming from U.P. to Mumbai, my family dwelt in the slums of Kandivali before we  shifted out to the suburbs. Having lived amongst the labourers and migrants, they are the people I have always observed. Right next to us in the slums, stayed a carpenter who made chairs, doors, stools, tables etc. within a tiny space. Even I used my bed as a workspace, since we lacked an extra inch. 

MD: You are a multidisciplinary designer. Which mediums have you worked with so far?

SR: Right now, am working as an artist through my practice at ‘The Chamar Project’. Earlier, had explored unconventional mediums to challenge myself e.g. kinetic, video and film-exposure. 


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Sikhs- An occidental romance

Franz Winterhalter was Queen Victoria’s principal portrait painter. Both Queen Victoria and he were captivated by Duleep Singh’s beauty and nobility of bearing.
Photo credit- Hubris Foundation
Portrait of Prince Albert, eldest Son of The Maharaja Duleep Singh, 1870 (oil on panel) by Richmond, George (1809-96); 114.3×77.5 cm; Private Collection; ( after the Sikh defeat, the kingdom became annexed to British India and Duleep Singh lived in England and became a Christian;); Photo ¬© Christie’s Images

It started a day before Baisakhi on 13th April ’19 and was on till 18th, for nearly a week. I was lucky to catch The Hubris Foundation’s tribute to Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikhism at AIFACS, Delhi, on the last day. Despite the sun at its peak I excitedly trekked across the city to view The Sikh: An Occidental Romance. Worth it, for it was the most comprehensive collection of western Sikh paintings ever assembled. On display were 80 remarkable museum replicas of artworks that included the portrait of battle-hardened Ranjit Singh in reverential tranquility by English novelist and traveller Emily Eden, American artist Edwin Lord Weeks’ iconic painting of the Golden Temple and Austrian painter Rudolf Swoboda‘s portrait of a Sikh commissioned by Queen Victoria. Captured poetically an Akali is shown ensnared by the thugs of central India by August Schoefft (a German painter at Sher Singh’s court) and the Russian prince Alexis Soltykoff ‘s ‘Ladies of Pleasure’ were a rendition of the grandeur of Lahore during the Sikh Empire which portrayed the exotic Indian subcontinent beautifully. In addition, were Charles Harding’s (son of Viscount Harding- the Governor General of India) painting of the infamous Gulab Singh of Kashmir, who accused of betraying the Sikh Empire, a french portrait and animal painter Alfred De Dreux‘s portrait of Maharaja Ranjit Singh commissioned by an Italian General for the King of France and German painter and lithographer Franz Winter Halter’s portrait of The Charming – Prince Duleep Singh painting commissioned by Queen Victoria. These incredible works of art also covered The Anglo Sikh Wars, Viscount Hardinge, the charming  cities of Amritsar and Lahore, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and The Princess  Bamba Collection made it very inclusive.

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‘Baluchars- The Woven Narrative Silks of Bengal’

What happens when you miss one of the most-sought after textile exhibitions? You order a richly illustrated book titled – ‘Baluchars- The Woven Narrative Silks of Bengal’ edited by Jasleen Dhamija and published by Niyogi Books.

Actually, early this year Darshan Shah of  Weaver’s Studio Resource Centre had put together a Baluchar retrospective at the National Museum, New Delhi. It had taken nearly 10 years for her to showcase for the first time under one roof covetable personal and museum collections from V&A in London, Indian Musuem- Kolkata, TAPI collection in Surat-Gujrat, CSMCV- Mumbai, Musee Guimet – Paris, and Delhi’s very own National Museum and Crafts Museum.

In regard to that and the release of this book I met Jasleen, the ex-President of Jury for UNESCO’s Award for Creativity in Textiles and Chairperson of the Handloom Development Working Group of the Planning Commission (12th Plan)  of Indian Textiles and Handicrafts. I felt like a little child eagerly listening to her elusive tales of the Baluchars, and their exoticism.

Bengal’s woven narrative silks

Recounting their story she began, “Textiles have always been a big part of our lives. The Baluchars too elucidate the history of the 18th and 19th century Bengal, in terms of their life-style, and influences of various cultures which came to India in search of textiles. These woven narrative silks point out and evoke an interest in us. Some believe that it was the foreigners who bought these as souvenirs while few think these were gifted to the highly sophisticated courtesans as favours, as those women always wanted to be a part of the aristocracy.”

Picture 129

Excerpt Changing tastes of India’s elite and the impact of imported cloths threatened to destroy the skill needed to weave complex cloths of this sorts. A few commissions came from the enlightened British officials. The European content of the design reflected this new patronage. A European mounted on an elephant is reading a letter or report – symbols of traditional modern authority amusingly positioned, side by side. Here the European was the patron and the agent and these subtly woven pictorial motifs were intentional.

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Bijou for everyday wear

Had actually spotted Dorothee Sausset and  her eponymous delicate jewellery label at the annual French Charity Fete at the French School in New Delhi, late last year. But waited till spring to flaunt her little blings on my pinched collar, fingers and wrists.

The designer and a Kundalini yoga practitioner intents on linking our mind, body and soul to her classic bejewelled pieces. Highlighting her beliefs through it, she brilliantly presents a little book carrying basic information on the Mudras and their meditations.

Inclined towards alternative therapies, my ears perked up when she began talking about her line – 5 Elements. For, the five different stones chosen by her, seemed like a conscious choice to connect with our lower chakras and elements of Ayurveda- ether, air, fire, water and earth.

Mudras pendants charms

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Giving ‘mukti’ to scrap

The current solo show at the Gallery Art Positive reminds me Irwin Allen Ginsberg – an American poet, philosopher and writer’s quote “Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness” When the world is going mad experimenting with newer mediums in art, design and fashion, a parallel event for the India Art Fair 2019 is displaying Mumbai based artist Haribaabu Naatesan’s Equilibrium – The Irreversible till 5th March 2019.

It is a must-see, as the scrap artist exhaustively engages with the concept of ‘Mukti’ – ultimate liberation from the cycles of life. Through an artwork or design he hopes to end the cycle of the scrap used in his work and wishes it never goes through another ‘re-birth’.

He feels his art is very simple as it easily creates nostalgia of a bygone era and whimsical notes of childhood memories which evoke profundity transcending age, craft, and walks of life. Reminiscing he narrates about a four year old getting excited over the toy guns and cars he noticed in the artwork, when displayed at the Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai. And the carpenter who was both fascinated and bewildered at the same time, while framing his work.

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Comfortably Numb

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So much the less complete

I’m looking out for Mumbai’s Chemould Prescott Road collaboration with New York based Thomas Erben Gallery. Together they are bringing a solo exhibition of Aditi Singh –Storm Warnings’ to the upcoming India Art Fair 2019. Born 1976 in Assam, the emerging artist studied painting at the New York Studio School and subsequently earned a M.F.A. at the University of Pennsylvania in 2001.

Currently residing in Mumbai, she elucidates “In all my work, I begin with drawing a circle first, repeating it layer after layer, moving from transparency to density. It is this unending layering that catches and holds me in its grip. Often there is no inner or outer surface of the picture plane, there is simply a pulse, a vibration if you may. I think essentially what painting wants is a connection. It needs to matter to you personally, intuitively, sensually, before there is any question of meaning.”


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