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Vastrabharana: Old craft, new ways

Indian artisans are finding new platforms to forge a brand identity for traditional crafts

Hand-block printing, Jaipur, Rajasthan. Photo: Alamy
Hand-block printing, Jaipur, Rajasthan. Photo: Alamy

For over 25 years, Vastrabharana, a textile festival organized by the Crafts Council of Karnataka (CCK), has been bringing together artisans and textile weavers from across the country in Bengaluru. Started by Vimala Rangachar, a long-time champion of art and craft, as a fund-raiser for the organization, the emphasis has shifted gradually from simply showcasing unique crafts to empowering the karigars.

Bharati Govindraj, CCK chairperson, says that while designer intervention is on the increase, craftspersons need not be dependent on external branding. “Craftspersons are brands unto themselves, so bespoke that we should be proud to wear them."

The second edition of its Mumbai event, on till 27 May, has participants like Sufiyan Khatri, a 10th generation Ajrakh artisan; Gujarat’s Vraj:bhoomi, a label that focuses on the contemporary revival of traditional textiles; and Delhi-based Studio Medium, whose “JamBan" saris merge two distinct techniques, Jamdani and Bandhani.

Khatri, who has been in the profession for 34 years, is showcasing the “Fustat" design, which gets its name from the historical city of Al-Fustat in Egypt, where Indian textiles, preserved in the desert sand, were found during excavations in the 1920s. Khatri’s father first saw the textiles in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and the father-son duo went on to develop their own designs, inspired by the old fabrics. Today, Khatri’s innovative style is considered pioneering—it ushered the Ajrakh print-weaving technique into the 21st century.

Khatri doesn’t agree with the dying-crafts narrative that the media keeps returning to. Interest in Ajrakh has grown exponentially over the years, he says. Of the 100 people at his Ajrakhpur workshop in Gujarat, most are young. “The biggest challenge is to come up with new designs every six months." When his designs enter the market, he says, they are copied instantly and reproduced with chemical dyes. “I wish the government gives us a special logo for natural dyes and Ajrakh, like the one for Khadi." For now, he is grateful that avenues like Vastrabharana exist to support the livelihoods of craftsmen upholding millennia-old traditions.

Vastrabharana 2018 is on till 27 May, 10am-7pm, at Coomaraswamy Hall, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai.

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