A splendid and educational treatise

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A splendid and educational treatise

Sunday, 26 February 2017 | AVANTIKA BOSE

A splendid and educational treatise

This book’s design is mesmerising. The numerous visual details give this book a kinetic air than a static presence. It puts the spotlight on innovative designers, who are infusing traditional textiles with contemporary sensibilities, writes AVANTIKA BOSE 

The author of this prolific book Unfolding: Contemporary Indian Textiles,Maggie Baxter is an Australian artist, writer, independent curator and public art coordinator. In this book she has explored the adaptation of traditional Indian textile craft traditions in contemporary forms.

Baxter visited India in 1990 and has since been a frequent visitor, particularly to Kutch, in Gujarat, where she maintains a textile art practice that uses traditional textile techniques as media for contemporary art. She has exhibited regularly since 1984 in both group and solo exhibitions in Australia, India, Japan and the UK. She held her first solo exhibition in India at the Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre in December 2004, for which she won an award for the Best Design and Craft Show that year. In Australia she works primarily in the area of public art coordination managing a significant number of large-scale individual integrated artworks for major urban redevelopment projects.

Textile historian, Rahul Jain was the one who gave her the idea to write this book. He was aware of her work in Kutch, and that in the past she had written about Indian contemporary art so he suggested her to write a book on Indian textiles. In an interview with a newspaper, Baxter says, “The book is titled Unfolding because you literally fold and unfold fabric. But here, I also meant that this is a book that unfolds the story of textiles in India”. In the same interview she also mentions that she met with several artists and designers, and only after visiting their galleries and studios and after interviewing them was she able to gather all the necessary information to write this book. As not a lot of material was available on this topic, Baxter had to resort to informal ways of research such as shopping. However, it was only after attending two weddings and an engagement party and meeting the people there that she was able to go on the right track.

In her book she has written about 25 design labels in India that are reinvigorating the traditional textiles of the country such as bandhni, leheriya and jamdani, by giving them a new and an appealing identity in the world of contemporary designs. “These are not just making heads turn but are also re-interpreting tradition in a new mould,” says Baxter, in an interview.

The book explores the rich and diverse textile craft tradition of India that has been adopted and adapted by craftsmen, artists and designers of the 21st century. The author looks at ‘new interpretations made within the current cultural landscape by designers who dare to take steps into the unknown’. Traditional techniques and motifs are reworked in atypical, up-to-date ways, creating a fresh new visual language that is definitely Indian.

Different chapters in the book explore the design philosophies of designers and artists who are working in the ambit of craft revival, minimalism, surface decoration, textures, and narratives through various natural, mythological, and religious symbols, changing how the market consumes these traditional textiles. These include the Delhi-based Raw Mango, Play Clan, Gaurav Jai Gupta for Akaaro, 11.11/eleven eleven, Aneeth Arora for Pero and Goodearth and Noida-based Abraham and Thakore, Kolkata-based bailou and GreenEarth. This books also talks about the small but growing number of Indian artist such as Mithu Sen, Manisha Parekh, and Parul Thacker for whom fibre and fabric are integral of part of their studio and gallery practices.

“The book is an unprecedented effort as it is likely the first major document to record and share the more recent and exciting period of Indian textile design,” says textile historian Rahul Jain.”

Indian textiles today include almost unimaginable plethora of regionally specific skills, techniques and motifs from every state and region in India, far exceeding any other country in the enduring, prolific production of its living material culture. This book delves into an overwhelming sense of Indian cultural identity manifested in the beautiful art of contemporary textiles as well as the production methods using traditional skills that has always made Indian textiles unique.

The book is filled with works of various artists and designers but what piqued my interest the most is the work of Goodearth founded by Anita lal. Goodearth is a product design company with a small chain of shops. It’s very easy to be seduced by the unashamed romanticism of Goodearth’s small scale-digital prints. Their choice of imagery, blended from old and new photographs, historic miniature paintings, and Bollywood posters reveals a postmodern determination to combine historical vernacular with decorative, playful illusion. For me anything with even a hint of Bollywood automatically attracts my attention. And the Goodearth team uses old movie stills and lyrics and digitally prints them in profusion onto cushions and wallpaper. Their products are quirky, colourful, unique, and delving into Bollywood, history and legends — what’s there not to love about these products!

The work of textile and fashion designer, Aneeth Arora who is also the founder of the fashion label, Péro intrigued me. She calls herself a ‘textile and dress maker’ and what fascinates and inspires her most is the clothing and dressing styles of the local people, which makes them so effortlessly stylish and trendy, therefore making them real trend-setters of our time. Arora travels widely to develop unique, region specific fabrics. For her ‘Indian-ness’ is confident and global, not parochial.

This books design is mesmerising. The numerous visual details gives this book a kinetic air than a static presence. Unfolding: Contemporary Indian Textiles bridges the gap between scholarship and enjoyment. The print and layout on the glossy pages of the book are extremely elegant. The photos are shot and lighted in such a tactile way that you will want to caress each piece of fabric this book provides. For all those textile design geeks or those interested in Indian textiles, this treatise by Maggie Baxter should be one of the books on their lists.

Baxter herself sums up what this book is about — “the evolution of ancient tradition into a 21st century idiom”. This book puts the spotlight on innovative designers, who are infusing traditional textiles with contemporary sensibilities.

Photos taken from Unfolding: Contemporary Indian Textiles by Maggie Baxter and published by Niyogi Books

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