As part of the celebrations for 60 years of India – Oman diplomatic relations, the Embassy of India, Oman hosted the collection ‘Vastram’ with a view to showcase the diversity of textiles from different regions of India. The textile exhibition ‘Vastram: Splendid World of Indian Textiles’ is an Indian Council of Cultural Relations collection, which was curated by Shelly Jyoti, a New Delhi based curator, fashion designer and a visual artist with active participation from Neelu Rohra, from the Embassy of India, Oman. Manju Ramanan spoke to the two women woven together with a passion for Indian textile and its reach in the Arab world
What has been the highlight of Vastram?
Shelly: ‘Vastram – The Splendid World of Indian Textiles’ collection features over 37 traditional Indian textiles and a 40 feet high site-specific installation. The collection is in categories of painted/ printed, woven/non-woven, embroidery and embellishments, which narrates the global influences on new materials, machine spun yarn for hand loom cotton and synthetic dyes for vegetable and mineral dyes. Indian culture has had the capacity of absorbing new influences and making them her own. The court workshops of the Mughal emperors at Ahmedabad, Agra and Fatehpur, and in the ateliers of Golkonda had the finest weavers from India who worked alongside master craftsmen from Persia, and other centers of textile weaving. New textile structures were introduced and explored the new uses of gold thread and colored silks, creating infinite fantasies.
How important is Indian textile to Oman?
Neelu: Historically, Indian textiles were a principal commodity in the trade of the pre-industrial age and were prized for their fineness in weave, brilliance in colour, rich variety in designs and a dyeing technology which achieved a brightness of colour unrivalled in the world. Both material and textual evidence attests to the consumption of Indian cloth from Gujarat to Sindh,Egypt to Iran and Central Asia and other countries in West Asia from as early as the 11th century. By the 15th Century, the export of cotton textiles to the markets in the Indian Ocean was carried out on a large scale. From the 16th century, Indian cottons had achieved global reach through trade dominating the world’s textile market. Omani companies have been encouraged to invest in India’s textile sector, which is the second largest employer in that country, offering direct employment to around 35 million people. Textiles are an important part of India’s exports to the Sultanate of Oman and India welcomes Omani investments in this industry. A fact shared by Indra Mani Pandey, India’s ambassador to the Sultanate, on the opening day.
Tell us about the 40 feet installation.
Shelly: The installation ‘Ajrakh: The showers of celebration’ is a site specific installation created by the curator Shelly Jyoti for the exhibition ‘Vastram’ which was hosted by Embassy of India, Muscat as part of celebrations of sixty years of India – Oman diplomatic ties.
The installation consisting of approximately 400 sculptural buttons made of textiles with 3000-year-old printing technology called Ajrakh from Bhuj, Gujarat, India, also maps the traditional and contemporary textile traditions. The objective of this installation is celebrations and to document the craft of Ajrakh printing and record the changes that have come about in its manufacturing process, colours and motif. Ajrakh is, traditionally, a double-sided resist block printed cotton textile. The use of Ajrakh printing on cotton fabric utilizes indigo techniques, which are used by Khatris, the immigrants from Sindh and Baluchistan who came to India during 1600 C.E. In all cultures, rich symbolism arises from the use of textiles in their domestic and ceremonial roles. Textile objects readily evoke memories, past experiences and physical and cultural associations. They consequently play a particularly powerful role in helping to contextualize objects and also encourage haptic responses.
How does the exhibition benefit artisans?
Neelu: The curator of this show is also a visual artist who has been working with Ajrakh artisans for a decade now. Ajrakh is one of the oldest types of block printing on textiles still practiced in parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan in India, Sindh in Pakistan. The curator works in collaboration with the Bhuj artisans to create her textile artworks.
Shelly: What was most fascinating for me were the trade textiles, which, by definition, were produced by one culture to be sold to another, that often revealed a conglomeration of design and technical features. New and exotic designs were imitated by craftsmen in the East and the West and traded by sea or land routes. The most important were the chintz that were marketed and produced in India on demand by Dutch, French and British, resulting in a common visual language of design recognizable around the world. This exhibition was on display in Mekong Ganga Asian Traditional Textile Museum in Siem Reap, Cambodia, from where they have come for display in Oman. The collection will, thereafter, travel for display in four other countries, namely, Ethiopia, Turkey, Fiji and Nepal.