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Martand Singh: The man who gave us Vishwakarma

Author and advocate of Indian textiles Rta Kapur Chishti on the legacy of Martand Singh, a seminal figure in the world of textile conservation died last month

A 2002 photo of Martand Singh. Photo: India Today
A 2002 photo of Martand Singh. Photo: India Today

With the support of cultural activist and writer Pupul Jayakar, Mapu’s role in bringing alive the design resources that already existed in government bodies and creating an interaction between weavers, designers and artists really opened up the space of art and design in India and shaped the way forward. His bringing in private individual designers to interact with both weavers and these institutions was a big step.

The Vishwakarma exhibitions that he curated (a series of seven textile art and history exhibitions from 1982-92) and his work in activating Weavers Service Centres across the country gave a lease of life to weaver communities and the textile arts. He introduced the process of design to crafts communities as a way of understanding technicalities, translating design into skill and technique, to create great art.

Also Read: The making of Mapu

One of his greatest legacies also lies in setting up institutions such as the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, or Intach (he was appointed chairman of the Intach UK Trust in 1993), and making the museum a creative, inspiring space of art and culture. He was on the boards of many trusts and became director of the Calico Museum of Textiles, one of the best archives we have in the country. He was appointed trustee of the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, Jodhpur. He drove the idea of the museum to its heights, as a space that housed the best and the finest, as a place of excellence. He honoured the textile arts and the artisans.

The Vishwakarma Awards, initiated by him, honour those who go beyond craft as a mode of production, pushing it to a higher level of art and excellence.

Passionately interested in immortalizing the sari, he was involved from start to end with the Saris Of India volume (Saris Of India: Tradition And Beyond, 2010, edited by him and me). He witnessed how the sari almost disappeared in the early 21st century and would have been happy at the resurgence of interest in it over the last few years.

—As told to Komal Sharma

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