The district of Kutch in the region of Gujarat, western India, is synonymous with the practice of textile art and craft. Kutch embroidery is famous for its dense motifs and signature mirror work but within these signature styles are several layers of sub-categories as each tribe and sub-tribe produces a unique signature form of art. A highlight of my research trip was having the opportunity to stay with the unique and well-respected institution Somaiya Kalavidya who provide design education for traditional artisans from the region whilst maintaining their mission to preserve and protect the much admired traditional arts of the region.
Famed for their artisan to artisan programmes, Kalavidya educates artisans while honouring and incorporating existing traditions and teaching a spectrum of others about rural traditions. The institute’s curricula, schedule and language of instruction are designed to accommodate the lifestyles of the artisan and the only prerequisite for admission is knowledge of traditional crafts.
During my stay I was taken out the local villages to visit some of the artisans who had graduated from one of Kalavidya’s design courses in their home and working environment. Out first stop was a small village called Arakhpur where we met with Irfan khatri, Soyeb Khatri and Salman Khatri who all specialised in the local tradition of Ajrakh print which is printed on both sides of the fabric. Basing their work on the traditional Ajrakh themes and using natural indigo dyes, all of the artisans mix tradition with new innovative designs suitable for both clients who seek the traditional and more contemporary product; Ifran Khatri (below left) taking inspiration for his designs from artists including Jackson Pollock, Vincent van Gogh and M.F Hussain.
Following on from the mornings visits we made our way over to the weaving community of Bhujodi where we met a group of weaving artisans, some of Somiya Kalavidya’s current students and graduates at Dayabhai’s home and workshop. Currently a Design Tutor at Kalavidya, Dayabhai’s own work takes inspiration from his craft’s traditional designs whilst incorporating fresh inspiration from the natural world around him. Taking time to explain his intricate and time consuming weaving process and how he makes his unique and complex designs, which can only be produced by hand, Dayabhai explained how his work is too expensive for the local market so outsources to local boutiques and international agents to ensure he can get make a sustainable living from his craft.
The next day we started our journey in the village of Mundra where we met with Zakiya khatri (pictured right) and Shafik Khatri who are both tie and dye (bandi) artisans. A Meticulous and careful craft made by tying sections of the fabric with thread before it is dyed, the tradition of bandi is not as prominent as some of the other crafts synonymous with the region of Kutch and has more traditional associations with South India. A recent graduate, Zakiya is keen to build her own brand and by undertaking careful market research, will launch her own website and brand which she will showcase through annual fashion and craft exhibitions whilst continuing to make traditional work for the local market and for special occasions such as weddings.
After a quick lunch, we continued our journey out to Tunda Vandh village to meet with Mongoben who is a Rabari embroidery artisan. A current student Mongoben’s designs are heavily influenced by a luri (shawl) that her sister made for her own wedding day but also by nature and the cycle of the moon. After graduating, Mongoben wishes to learn how to sew which will enable her to make whole garments rather than just embroider designs on ready made items, helping her to establish a collection for her own design brand. Mongoben’s plans are still in the planning stage, but with help and advice of current staff and graduates from Kalavidya, she hopes her plans will be fully developed by the time she graduates.
Lastly we went to Faradi Village to meet three sisters who are all current students and suf embroidery artisans Luxmi, Tara and Tulsi Puwar. Working as a team of designers, they take the traditional designs of the suf craft but give the craft’s traditional themes a modern twist so they appeal to a wider market and the current day client. An intricate and delicate craft produced by counting the tiny square made by the warp and the weft of the fabric, the sisters have produced a new set of designs which feature butterflies and geometric patterns on modern fabrics which will appeal to their proposed client base. Working on ftheir new collection which they will exhibit at the school’s exhibition which takes place in early December in Mumbai’s Artisan Gallery, which many of the other artisans we visited will also take part in, the sisters hope the exhibition will generate orders for them, helping them to move their brand forward and increase its visibility.
An organisation helping talented artisans to raise the profile of the designs and products they produce, enabling them to be respected as designers and not just as makers, Somiya Kalavidya is an organisation which is making real and lasting changes to the way that our clothing is produced and helping to reconnect the maker with the consumer. Kalavidya is generating a movement of Design Craft.