Crafts in India – Trip to Gujarat and Rajastan

Really sorry that I am only now getting round to putting pen to paper on my India trip. But in fact that is not really true: I kept a detailed pen to paper diary during my travels, but translating it to type has just not happened… Life back home took over: project with Maider López the week after, lots of funding reports, snow and Christmas baking, all the children home (and my mum too, lovely) and then Hogmonay the real Scottish way with ceilidh, whisky and all the other paraphernalia with some good old Huntly friends. But now with all the happy New Year’s resolution kicking in, I was finally going to do this, only to find out that Anne Petrie one of my wonderful co-travellers has already written the most splendid and detailed blog about the whole trip. Have a look here.

So: for all the many details I am referring to her writing. It would be very hard to do a better job then Anne.

However here are the snapshots of my ups and lows:

UPS -The ten best things:

  1. Meeting the group of other curators; they were a great inspirational bunch and splendid co-shoppers of all those wonderful things we were exposed to. Thanks to Louise, Angela, Katy, Judith, Juliet, Dawn, Kathryn, Eleanor and Anna for all the camaraderie.
  2. The two organizers Barnie and Jeremy (together they form the cultural practice A Fine Line); the trip was superbly researched and they brought us to the most interesting, remote and far flung places, many of them we were unlikely to ever have found ourselves. Thanks Barnie and Jeremy also for the great amount of patience with the shopping extravaganzas.
  3. Also Lokesh an artist designer from Ahmedabad, who has been assisting and introducing us to so many places in a most informed way.
  4. Meeting Priya at the Sanskriti foundation. Priya is a textile artist based in Delhi, who I would like to work with in the future. Her interest lies with the communities of darners which are living an almost invisible life in rural Indian communities. Their trade has largely been invisible and their craft brought to the edge of their own sustainability. Priya showed me their work on shawls, which had been handed down for generations; often the darning work has been totally invisible, as are the craftsmen’s cast. I feel this could be an interesting opportunity for a cross cultural, cross generational project. In our communities the older generations have learned how to darn, and kept it up as a necessity. The younger generations have not used this skill, or not even learned it. But with an increased interest in upcycling there is room for common ground. If possible, I would also like to introduce Priya and the darners to Paisley Museums. Paisley, I understood during my trip was the downfall of the textile crafts in India, as there they started weaving the materials with machines, which flooded the Indian market, and therefore made the elaborate handicraft too slow and hence obsolete.
  5. Arts Reverie, an oasis in Ahmedabad. Very stylish, greatly situated and the most lovely hosts (especially when you are ill, like I was, but they made me recover quickly).
  6. The train journey from Ahmedabad to Buij: I love train journeys anyway, but this one made me meet a nice family from Hyderabad, who told me a lot about India and Buij. I wished all journeys had been by train.
  7. Seeing elephants walking on the streets of Jaiphur (this was when I already got totally used to seeing cows and camels walking on the highways in Delhi).
  8. Being able to skype my son Michael on his birthday, linking up with him in Norway, my daughters Deborah in Munich (staying with my mum) and Rachel in Edinburgh and Nick back in Huntly. It felt the world has become smaller.
  9. The crazy Cinderella carriage on the last evening in Bombay: made me want one of those in Huntly, more people would come to visit and be driven round town like this.
  10. Snow back in Huntly – went out skiing the next day.

But best of it all of course were the artists, artisans and craftsmen and women we saw: I won’t go into all the details here, as Anne has already so eloquently described the list of places we visited in detail. But the places that were most interesting for me were

  •  Jai Mahal palace on the lake in Jaiphhur:, it showed the most incredible craftsmanship still alive, long lost in our hemisphere.
  •  the weaving workshop that I visited with Luise Butler and Lokesh in Ahmedabad; an incredible atmosphere of comradeship among the women there interwoven with the bright colours of the wool and loom.
  • the quilt makers in Haza/Kutch – time was far too short there
  • Kala-Raksha a workshop of traditional textile arts in the earthquake area of Sumrasar/Kutch; thanks for showing me the patchworks; they were very moving.
  • but the very best was the Ajarakh workshop of block prints by Ismail Mohammad Khatri in Kukma. This is double sided print, where every side needs to be done in 13 processes (hence 27 processes if one counts the first wash in); it was the most amazing handicraft process I have ever seen. Here we were also introduced to the making of the dyes, like indigo and other plants, woods and stones (rhubarb, pomegranate, marbelum…).
  • There are many more to mention: like Toffan Raffai – an artist who follows Ghandian principles; Dinesh Rojan – who makes garments without sewing made me a dress from a cloth with stones and elastics), Siddharta Das – a designer who seems to be able to turn his hand to anything.

LOWS – The worst things:

Can’t think of any (maybe being sick in Ahmedabad, but then Monna and his mate fixed me up quickly again).

All in all, a really great mix of gaining professional contacts, both in India and among the group of curators I was traveling with, seeing a new and incredibly fascinating country, and learning about craft – a discipline I had not engaged enough with so far.

Thank you all who made this possible:

  • Nick and Anna for giving me the time off
  • The curator colleagues for all the interesting conversations and fun companionship
  • Jeremy and Barnie and Lokesh for all the organising
  • Creative Scotland for putting the finance towards it
  • The craft makers and people and India for all their hospitality

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