Curated by Shailin Smith, the exhibition ‘FIBRE FABLES: An Exhibition In Collaboration with Artists and Weavers’ includes installations, photographs, video and sound art. The idea for this project germinated from an exhibition held in July 2014 to commemorate 75 Years of Raj Group. The works then displayed in the exhibition were fibre art pieces, designed by the team at Raj Group and created by the weavers. The 11 artists participating currently are Abeer Gupta, Brahm Maira, Dhvani Behl, Durga Kainthola, Nidhi Khurana, Nikheel Apahle, Puneet Kaushik, Sahaya Sharma, Sandeep Biswas, Shivani Aggarwal and Vibhu Galhotra. The works include Abeer Gupta’s sound piece using diverse sounds from the factory, Brahm Maira’s photographic works that capture the factory ambience, textile designer Dhvani Behl’s amorphous sculptures using raw wool on the pitloom and using the hand-tufting gun, besides Durga Kainthola’s works inspired by the three battles of Panipat and Nidhi Khurana’s 26 x 16 foot map of Panipat.
Curator Shailin Smith spoke about the initiative to The Goodwill Project.
What prompted the event? What was the thought/concept behind the activity?
The Raj Group was established in 1925. The family has built a foundation with the weaving community for the past 75 years. But as they progress, the weaving community dwindles, largely due to other opportunities and the dignity of labour found elsewhere. For the Raj Group, philanthropy is part of their legacy, from running a charitable trust that provides health care camps and facilities to the needy, to running an educational institution that provides free education to those who cannot afford it. The Raj Group is also the only home furnishings company in the world to be Fair Trade Certified, and under this banner, they are doing a lot to uplift the lives of the weaving community. From health care, sanitation and education, there are several parallel projects that they are developing for the weavers.
Sumeet Nath, Managing Partner at Raj Group, decided to create a project, where the weavers would be given a platform to perceive and experience their craft through the
eyes of another, and what better way than having artists come in and collaborate with them. So he and I both created a project where artists were invited to visit the factory at Panipat and explore the possibility of collaboration. We have 11 artists and almost 50 weavers showing in collaboration at the exhibition.
Tell us a little about Panipat. What weaves is it known for?
Panipat is an industrial city, which has developed largely because of the industries and the industrialists who live there. There is also a glimpse of its historical significance in the ruins of several monuments scattered around the city.
The weavers are migratory labourers, who travel in from Bihar, UP and Bengal to work for a few months in Panipat and then go back to farming during the seasons for sowing and harvesting crop.
Tell us a little about the techniques involved—kilim, pitloom weaving, braiding, tufting showcased during the exhibition.
The techniques used in this exhibition are:
Kilim Weaving: Originated with the Persians and then the tradition has continued in Kashmir, Benaras, Mirzapur and Badoi.
Pitloom Weaving: It can still be found in Bengal and the Northeast.
Handloom Weaving: The loom is a handloom, again found in various parts of India.
Tufting: The weaving is done with a tufting gun. Deepak Nath, Managing Partner and
Sumeet Nath’s father, had gone to Japan for his travels when he came across the tufting gun and brought it back to India. It did not work in the same capacity, so they re-made a similar looking gun in India and used it for their carpets. The tweaked design was soon used by other manufacturers across all the factories in Panipat.
Dyeing: Tie and Die comes from Rajasthan and Gujarat.
Chromojet Printing: It involves a completely mechanized process of surface printing on carpet. The machines are manufactured in Austria/Switzerland/Germany and imported to India.
What prompted the need to capture the art on video and through other means? Is this a method to preserve the technique, bring it to a larger audience?
Yes, it is a way of documenting the art of carpet weaving. When the
industrial revolution took over the west, it completely destroyed the craft of lacemaking, exquisite French tapestries and other such crafts across Europe. From creating a new labour force, the revolution reduced the size of the creative force. In India, we have been fortunate that handwork and labour is part of our culture. We cook our own food and do most of the work ourselves; we are still very hands-on culturally as we are an agricultural economy. But, as machines take over many processes in our industries, they will also start edging out handicraft. Before that happens, it is essential that we document it and preserve it, and what better way than art.
How popular are Indian weaves today and what can be done to keep them thriving.
The Indian weaving community is precious. They represent and hold within them a legacy, our culture, our heritage and largely what makes India unique. We need to find innovative ways to dignify and signify what they do by bringing attention to their craft and skill. This exhibition is probably one such platform.
Tell us about the artists chosen and how the collaborative process took place.
The artists were chosen on the basis of the ideas they submitted, their willingness to work out of their comfort zone and in a factory setting and on their understanding that this is a collaboration with the weavers, so their willingness to incorporate the skill of the weavers in their art was the biggest reason of them being part of the project. I also wanted to have artists representing different genres and media. So we have painters, an installation artist, textile designer, calligraphist, filmmaker, a musician and two photographers.
I have discovered beautiful human beings, creative souls and wonderful friends along the way. Without the cooperation of the artists this project would never have seen the light of day
How do you feel about the end result. Your favourite pieces?
I have no favorites, simply because I have seen each piece start from a single yarn into a work of art, so I am in awe of all of them. It was the journey, the process and the experience right from the beginning, I don’t think we have reached the end, as we are still working on promoting these works and making them travel. Yes, if these works sell, a percentage from the sales will go directly to the weavers who have collaborated with the artists and that will be a huge contribution to their livelihood.
(The exhibition is being held at The Stainless Gallery, Old Ishwar Nagar, New Delhi from November 21 till December 31, 2015, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.)