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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; (add.info.: 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.

Haribaabu_Naatesan_Comfortably_Numb00 (1)

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.”

Storm.jpg

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Romanticising maximalism of Indian design

His mentor, Tony Duqutte was an American design legend who created elegant interiors, high jewelry, costumes and sets for Hollywood and Broadway productions, European royalty and the well-heeled. Following suit, Hutton Wilkinson – the grandson of the late Bolivian president Don José Luis Tejada-Sorzano unarguably stepped into the goliath’s shoes.

As a child with a quirky sense of humour his style heroes were Tony Duquette, Cecil Beaton, Oliver Messel, The Baron de Rede, Arturo Lopez Wilshaw, Emelio Terry and Carlos de Beistegui . In 1995, when Wilkinson and his compatriot, Tony Duqutte came up with their first jewelry line for Bergdorf Goodman, Vogue wrote – “After a maximum of minimalism, all of fashion is turning towards Tony Duquette for inspiration,” (cited in Vogue Arabia)

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On reading several interviews given by Wilkinson the design enthusiast in me excitedly connected through email with the owner and creative director of Tony Duquette only to discover his “love for maximalism in Indian design”.

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Make this eco-friendly ceramic tableware your festive gift this season

The first Indian Ceramics Triennale: Breaking Ground is on at the Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur (in collaboration with the Contemporary Clay Foundation) till 18th November 2018. This and few other exhibitions in the recent past have been slowly and steadily bringing to fore ceramics in India. On the surface it seems like a sudden burst of creativity, which must have been brewing for a while.
Being an admirer of utilitarian art I connected with Sonali Sharma – the co-founder of Nugu Handmade  (based near the Nugu reservoir in the Kaveri basin).
NuguHandmade-Monsoon Collection 20

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The sublime P A P I E R

After a long haitus, I’m back talking about a brilliant show currently being exhibited – PAPIER at Gallery Art Positive featuring nine outstanding artists from the Indian Subcontinent. Aisha A Hussain, Chetnaa, Ganesh Selvaraj, Gopika Chowfla, Jignesh Panchal, Sachin Tekade, Sachin George Sebastian, Sudipta Das and Shormii Chowdhury magically exalt one’s mind with just paper.

Invented by the Chinese in the 4th century this became a popular medium for crafts during celebrations in different cultures e.g. papel picado banners in Mexico, kirigami in Japan, papercut silhouettes in England during the Middle Ages and how can we forget the kite or lantern flying in Asia and South America. Infact, till just a decade or two ago there were many who’d indulge in hobbies such as scrapbooking, cardmaking, paper flowers, decoupage, paper mache, quilling, paper making, bookbinding, and paper layering. So as an offset to technology (seen even in art) I decided to interact with Sachin Tekade, a Pune based paper artist who chooses only pristine white paper to depict architectural and natural forms.

1 Untitled 18x18 inches 2018

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