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A sensory experience of coffee and cotton

A visually arresting installation celebrating the two crops misses the mark when it comes to the history and politics of their cultivation

The ‘touch’ part of the installation series explores the textures of cotton and coffee.
The ‘touch’ part of the installation series explores the textures of cotton and coffee.

There are many lenses through which we can look at coffee and cotton in India—we can celebrate their ubiquity in our lives, luxuriate in the feelings good coffee and cotton generate in us, or look at their cultivation through the lenses of history and labour. It is perhaps a bit of a pity that an ongoing exhibition celebrating the commonalities and connections between the two focuses only on the first two ways of looking at them while eschewing the political, especially given that the storied crops are associated so strongly with colonialism, and at a time when we have seen a successful farmer agitation that could well change the narrative around farming and agriculture.

Nevertheless, Raaga: The Harmony Of Cotton & Coffee, a collaborative project between the Naandi Foundation, which produces Araku Coffee, and The Registry of Sarees, a research and archival organisation working to preserve India’s textile history (it also supports a weaving project and retails through its commercial arm Yali), is a visually arresting show of installations that make coffee and cotton come alive. Using the concept of a sensorium, they have put together five exhibits that explore the stories of coffee and cotton through smell, sound, touch, sight and taste. “The work of both the Araku and Yali brands and their parent organisations revolves around community, identity and ecology, and these were the keywords we kept in mind while designing the exhibition through a collaborative process of workshopping,” says Kshitija Mruthyunjaya, creative head, The Registry of Sarees, who has helmed the exhibition.

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Spread across two floors of the spacious and lovely Araku café in Bengaluru, the show begins by evoking the sense of smell with a collection of scents inspired by the cultivation of coffee and cotton. Created by Ahalya Matthan, a trained perfumer and founder of The Registry of Sarees, the scents are by turn earthy, woody, fruity and sensual; there is even a “cottony” smell that brings to mind freshly washed cotton sheets and light-as-air cotton balls—though Matthan notes that cotton doesn’t have any smell of its own.  

Then we move to the soundscape created with Schumann Resonances that evoke the vibrations and biorhythms of the earth. The frequencies of this soundscape belong to a group of electromagnetic ranges known to induce states of healing and regeneration in plant and animal life, says Mruthyunjaya.

“Touch” finds representation through an installation that allows the visitor to touch and feel the textures and granularities of various grades of cotton and coffee, while the visual element is expressed through the largest installation, which depicts the seed to cup/loom journey through miniature models and a display of the final products. A tasting menu, created by the café’s culinary head Rahul Sharma, rounds up the experience with a seven-course meal representing seven stages in the coffee and cotton growing process: soil, seed, leaf/flower/fruit, ginning/pulping, spinning/drying, dyeing/roasting and finally, cloth/coffee.

Also part of the ongoing show are several workshops and talks: a botanical illustrations workshop by artist Nirupa Rao; an indigo and coffee dyeing workshop by Siju Ashok, a fifth-generation dyeing artist from Kutch; and one on typography by Sarang Kulkarani of the Mumbai design studio Ek Type.

The talks include one on soil by David Hogg, chief agronomist at the Naandi Foundation; and one on material memory by Pramod Kumar K.G., Eka managing director and founder-director of the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing. In addition, there will be a conversation between Archana Shah, founder of the textile brand Bandhej and author of the book Crafting A Future, and Bengaluru-based designer Prasad Bidapa.

Seldom do we celebrate the confluence of agriculture, food, design and art in India, and in bringing these aspects together into a wholesome union, Araku and Yali have provided a unique platform—notwithstanding the niggling omission of a more political point of view.

The show, tasting menu and workshops are on till 18 December. For details, contact Araku Coffee in Indiranagar, Bengaluru, and book workshop slots at 

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