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A story of old and new ‘ikat’

An ongoing exhibition aims to raise awareness about one of the robust textile traditions of India

‘Patta-Bandha’, curated by Mayank Mansingh Kaul, is on at the National Crafts Museum, Delhi
‘Patta-Bandha’, curated by Mayank Mansingh Kaul, is on at the National Crafts Museum, Delhi (Courtesy Devi Art Foundation)

In one of the halls of Delhi’s National Crafts Museum hangs a red silk scroll printed with the Twenty Point Programme, detailing schemes relating to health, employment generation, poverty alleviation, which was introduced in 1975 as part of the Union government’s Five-Year Plan.

Move closer and you will see the subtle zig zags at the corners of each English letter become visible—the 20 sentences are woven in ikat. The same technique is visible in the border that carries fish motifs, part of the repertory of Odisha ikat textiles. Below the border is the name and address of the scroll’s weaver-creator: Sudam Guin, resident of Nuapatna in east Odisha’s Cuttack.

As you walk through Patta-Bandha—The Art Of Indian Ikat, the third and final in a series of three exhibitions presented by the National Crafts Museum and Hastkala Academy, in collaboration with non-profit organisation Devi Art Foundation, the 30-plus exhibits makes you wonder about the genius of India’s artisans. The pieces—mostly from the 20th century onwards—are from the archives of the crafts museum and the foundation.

Also read: Future of textiles: The craftsperson-designer is here

Whether it is Karnataka’s molkalmuru, telia rumal from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, patola from Gujarat, mashru of the Deccan region, or Odisha’s calligraphic ikats, a thread of innovation ties the show together—all dedicated to a form of technique that stands for the patterning of cloth by the tying and resist- dyeing of yarns before weaving.

The takeaway was similar from the earlier two exhibitions—Fine Counts: Indian Cotton Textiles, which focused on muslin and was held between December 2022 and January 2023; and Vayan: The Art Of Indian Brocades, which showcased the evolution of silk and metallic fabrics between January and March 2023. All three exhibitions have been curated by textile designer and curator Mayank Mansingh Kaul.

The silk scroll printed with the Twenty Point Programme (left); and a traditional work with calligraphic ikat.
The silk scroll printed with the Twenty Point Programme (left); and a traditional work with calligraphic ikat. (Courtesy Devi Art Foundation)

“Many people don’t get to see the old and the new together (when it comes to textiles),” says Lekha Poddar, co-founder of Devi Art Foundation, while talking about the three shows. “We have tried to offer a glimpse of the three strong textile traditions of the country. The first two (muslin and brocade) were more material-based; this one is more technique-based.”

The old and new is visible as soon as you enter the exhibition hall. On the left, a wall reads: “The earliest visual references of ikat in the world are observed in the murals of the Ajanta caves in Maharashtra....” The opposite wall has mashru fabric with a silk warp and cotton weft.

Patterned with fine vertical stripes in single ikat along the warp, such fabrics were once used to make blouses, home furnishings and trousers. Pyjamas and ghagras that appear in miniature paintings from as far back as the Mughal era depict such mashru, says the board next to the panel.

A few steps away is a diagonal double ikat patola silk sari, designed by Rakesh Thakore in 1985, to serve as an example of how the fashion industry has explored the textile over the years. “Everything is very geometrical in ikat,” says Thakore, of the brand Abraham and Thakore. “It’s such a challenging and complex technique that its evolution has been more in terms of the scale of design.”

That’s why Reha Sodhi, responsible for the exhibition design, decided to create a more open layout for the display, so people could take in the vastness as well as the intricacy of the graphic designs that are largely in shades of red with splashes of green and gold.

Why so much red? According to Poddar, that’s the colour we use when it comes to prosperity, special occasions and festivals.

Patta-Bandha—The Art Of Indian Ikat is on till 10 March (Mondays and public holidays closed), at National Crafts Museum and Hastkala Academy, Delhi.

Also read: National Handloom Day: Why India needs more textile museums

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