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Spinning a Gandhian yarn

  • A new exhibition brings together architects, designers, visual artists and textile revivalists to celebrate 150 years of Mahatma Gandhi
  • Titled ‘Santati—Mahatma Gandhi Then. Now. Next’, the show looks at the many interpretations of Gandhian values

Gaurang Shah’s reinterpretation of Raja Ravi Varma’s lithographs in Khadi
Gaurang Shah’s reinterpretation of Raja Ravi Varma’s lithographs in Khadi (Photo Courtesy Artists/Abheraj Baldota Foundation)

At the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Mumbai, one can see a 1.64m-tall pillar looming ahead. Titled Shanti Totem, it has been crafted with skin-coloured terracotta discs enveloped in off-white Channapatna beads. Created by architect Ashiesh Shah’s atelier, each piece has been moulded by hand and stands as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi’s homespun Khadi dhoti. His works adapt the swadeshi philosophy.

Shah’s creations share space with an installation by Klove Studio featuring metal, mirrors, blown glass and rock salt. The minimalist design draws inspiration from Gandhi’s round spectacles and pays homage to his ideology of non-violence. The Dandi March is represented symbolically by the rock salt deposited at the base of the work. “When viewed from the front, the shapes and lines come together to form the word Ahimsa," mentions the artist statement.

‘Shanti Totem’ by Ashiesh Shah
‘Shanti Totem’ by Ashiesh Shah (Photo Courtesy Artists/Abheraj Baldota Foundation)

These works are part of the show Santati—Mahatma Gandhi Then. Now. Next, conceptualized by Lavina Baldota of the Abheraj Baldota Foundation and the NGMA, and supported by the Union ministry of textiles.

The word santati stands for a sequence that repeats itself in an infinite loop. Here, it signifies the relevance of Gandhi’s tenets, which hold true even 150 years after his birth. The show has its roots in Baldota’s familial association with him—her grandfather worked closely with Gandhi during the freedom struggle and Khadi became a way of life for the family. “Initially, we wanted to do something with Khadi as a tribute. But as the idea progressed, we realized that he had touched so many lives in so many ways that Gandhi was now a state of mind," says Baldota. So she reached out to artists working across disciplines like architecture, visual arts, design and literature, such as Shah, Klove, Jean-François Lesage and Gaurav Gupta, to present their interpretation of Gandhi’s values.

One of the highlights of the show is the reinterpretation of 54 Raja Ravi Varma lithographs in Khadi by designer Gaurang Shah. While the paintings of women have been recreated in Jamdani, those of gods and goddesses, and of mythological stories, have been interpreted in kalamkari and aari embroidery, respectively. “In 2013, I had recreated six of Laxman Aelay’s paintings in a collection of saris. One of those had been bought by Lavina, and since then she has been interested in a collaboration," says Gaurang.

Three years later, in 2016, Baldota reached out to the designer and requested him to visit The Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation in Bengaluru. The duo decided on lithographs which had hardly been on public view earlier. “When I spoke to the master weaver in my team, his initial reaction was one of disbelief. The paintings featured a profusion of colours, details and expressions," says Gaurang.

An added challenge was the fact that these saris had to be woven solely in Khadi, using natural dyes. However, he nudged his team into creating a sample—the initial two saris failed to recreate the details but the third effort was successful. “For each painting, we had to create a colour chart. For the entire series, we must have created around 600 shades. But the show has been worth the effort," he adds.

Santati is on display at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai, till 15 November.

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