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Reinventing Indian Textiles at KGAF ‘17

Reinventing Indian Textiles at KGAF ‘17

KGAF ‘17(Kala Ghoda Arts Festival), one of the country’s largest multicultural festivals slated from February 4th to February 10th is yet again being successful in drawing a colossal swarm of an unbelievably diverse audience, from art enthusiasts to people who only admire art from afar and also those who are yet figuring out what art really is.

Be it the ever-so-beguiling murals, the ornamental yet cerebral installations or the countless numbers of innovative pop-ups, KGAF is that one event in the city that would always meet your expectations, or even go beyond.

In addition to the festival’s cheery vibe are its workshops, ranging from fashion to music and literature to art.

WM attended two such workshops, and we were spellbound, in all true senses.

The workshop on Weaving Techniques which took place at Artisan’s was a hands-on demonstration of various weaving techniques by Chaman Vankar Siju, an artistan based in Bujodi, Kutch.

Chaman bhai, as he is lovingly called, belongs to the Vankar (Bunkar) community, who has been into the art of weaving since 11 generations now. In the past, there has been a symbiotic relationship between the Vankars and the Rabaris (the herdsmen and shepherds), who would bring their fleece of wool to the Vankars, who would then transform them into beautiful shawls. The initial weaving phase for Vankars comprised of only two prime ingredients: wool and jungli cotton (as it was grown only in the jungles).

Hansraj Siju, Chaman Siju’s nephew, specialises in creating artistic motifs, while the one technique that has been essentially close to the Vankar family is the extra-weft technique.

In an interactive session during the workshop, Chaman Siju opened up about all the design innovations and reverse engineering they have done over the years. He said, “Due to increased industrialisation and easy transportation, the world has become small. The weaving industry too, has undergone several changes meanwhile. The authentic weaving industry is on a decline due to the introduction of machines. However, I am happy and equally proud to say that people in my village still prefer hand-woven clothes.”

With also having learnt the charkha, Chaman Siju further explained the different types of weaving techniques they practise. They are:

  • Simple weaving
  • Kharad weaving – This type of weaving is mostly used in carpets
  • Mushroo/Madai weaving – This type takes its name from Mandvi or Madai, a place in Kutch.
  • Tangalia weaving – This type of weaving takes its name from Vagad, a place in Kutch.

Amidst the workshop, Chaman Siju wilfully quotes his father saying, “I remember my father telling me one day, “Machine ki bani cheejein bohot milti hain, lekin haath se bani cheejein dil ko chhoo jaati hain.” (Machine-made things can be found often, but things made from the hand touch the heart).

Chaman Siju says they make use of several dyes including indigo, vegetable and wood. But just like every art has a flipside to it, so does weaving. Natural indigo in Bhujodi and neighbouring areas, he says, was grown in abundance, but due to the establishment of various industries in the area by the Modi government, that, too, is declining gradually.

Over the last 30 years, there have been many touchpoints for Chaman Siju with the National Institute of Design (NID), Kala Raksha Vidyalaya and many such collaborations. With having a degree in arts and having travelled to many countries including Dubai and Canada, it should come as no surprise that Chaman Siju showcased his collection at Lakme Fashion Week ’17, as part of their sustainable programme.

Along with demonstrating various weaving techniques and interacting efficiently with his audience, Chaman Siju also shared his possible plans with us. He said, “If I had to collaborate, I would, with a senior designer at NID. And if I had to do so with someone from the weaving industry, the best prospect would be my father or uncle.”

Another workshop that WM attended was an interactive session on ‘Saris in Contemporary India’, held at the quintessential and richly Indian store, Ensemble, in Kala Ghoda. The speakers Tina Tahiliani Parekh, Executive Director at Ensemble and Ekta Rajani, Consulting Fashion Director at Grazia India provided the audience with a deep insight into the history of saris in India, its scope in the modern world and also, how it is perceived internationally.

The prime purpose of the workshop was to let the audience know how the sari is a beautifully designed product, both contemporary and traditional, that has a certain aesthetic to it and that one can engage with it in both, traditional and modern ways, as long as they start somewhere and not shy away or treat it awkwardly.

Contrasting the sari with the Japanese kimono, Tina Tahiliani Parikh expresses how glad she is that the sari has not met with the same fate as the latter, hence firmly standing its ground.

She said, “At one point many years ago, Indian designers were designing beautiful saris, but they were not the hand-woven type. They were mostly based on Chikankari and Zardosi, those that women would wear to special occasions. We then entered a realm of cocktail saris when the sari became more fashionable and sexy. Then about five to seven years ago, we began to witness a huge revival in the hand-woven sari and there were some key Indian designers like Sanjay Garg of Raw Mango and Gaurav Jai Gupta of Akaaro who played a great role in the same.”

With each state having its own exquisite fabrics and ways of draping a sari, the sari plays a tremendous part in the Indian textile heritage, the one in which Indian men and women, take great pride.

Ekta Rajani said, “I don’t think the sari ever died. It is we, the urban people, who are constantly trying to reinvent it. The village folk have never let go of it. But there is a newfound pride in the sari in the urban space.”

The sari, says Ekta, means different things to different women. And when it comes to the contemporary sari, it could be anything you imagine it to be. Through the session, the message that kept radiating was that ‘Treat the sari as your playground. Wear it with trousers, over a t-shirt, under a shirt or with a crop blouse. There is no stopping, there are no judgements. It is yours and yours only.’

Another important point they touched upon was how fashion and art students should be educated thoroughly on the legacy of the sari and the whole of Indian textile heritage for that matter.

Ekta says that it has been a tipsy-turvy ride for the sari in India. What with the Indian women embracing it in the earliest years, the steady decline in the later years and people finally realising its importance today, there have been numerous phases in the existence of the sari.

She also presented live examples of how a considerable, powerful chunk of people are taking solid steps and doing their best bid to support the sari. For example: Border and Fall, a digital publication that is committed to revealing India’s rich craft and textile while also having a special section called ‘The Sari’ and the ‘100 Sari Pact’ which started as a pact between two friends to wear saris a hundred times in 2015, which later became a catalyst to encourage more and more women to wear saris.

The workshop, in all its Indianness, tried portraying how the ‘Sari Revolution’ has finally taken off. It may not be full-fledged just yet, it may not be grandly visible. But it is happening, in bits and pieces, by a few individuals who want to reinvent the gracious garb and reintroduce it to the urban class.

As the workshop neared an end, Kalpana Shah, the master draper who has winsomely dressed the crème de la crème of the glamour industry with saris, demonstrated to the young and old, a few of her popular styles of wearing one.

What with individualism and expression taking the centre stage in the country, it is largely important for the Indian fashion industry, say Tina and Ekta, to support the sari and reinterpret it in a contemporary style.

Both the workshops, in a way, were a means of portraying their unfiltered, undivided dedication to the rich, Indian textile industry, which hasn’t yet been fully discovered. And while efforts are finally being taken to reinvent, reinterpret and reintroduce, there is a great deal of questioning and digging- below-the-surface that still has to be done. And to do the same, one need not be a fashion veteran, fashion journalist or even a fashion enthusiast. Just an ounce of love and regard for the country would do the trick.

In Chaman Siju’s words, “If you stay connected to your own craft and culture, you will always be passionate.”

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