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Woven Narratives

Indian handlooms as Creative & Cultural Industries

9 Jul 2023


13 Jul 2023

This exhibition brings into focus the role of hand weaving across India’s creative and geographical contexts, by drawing attention to their distinct ecologies of manufacture, trade, and use. These may be seen as forming specific economic sectors while equally expressing varied individual, social, and cultural meanings for the communities involved. The selection of textiles represents some of the most prominent textile-producing regions in the country, narrating their diverse histories, visual and material features, as well as the aesthetic and technical connections many of them share with other parts of the world. Woven textiles, thus, become metaphors for both national identity and development as much as for the recognition of shared, global cultures.

The exhibits on view are conceptualized and created by those who practice as artisans, craftspersons, artists, and designers, employing a range of expertise and skills in hand weaving. The processes they engage in also include pre-loom activities such as spinning, yarn preparation, and dyeing, with aspects such as finishing and surface embellishment comprising post-production procedures. The makers are also dependent on a variety of raw materials, tools, equipment, and devices unique to the requirements of handlooms. Fabrics reach markets through different modes of transport, are sold through several retail and wholesale formats, and are transformed into apparel, home furnishings, and other kinds of products. From such perspectives, the links with other sectors of the economy prove to be vital.

The Handloom ecologies included in the exhibition are that of Art and design; Farming and agriculture; Nomadic and indigenous Traditions; Festive and occasional Wear; and Patronage and philanthropy. They are explained briefly below:

Art & Design — Hand weaving plays a visible role in shaping contemporary identities of art and design in India. This is also a sphere through which new explorations and innovations emerge. This group represents the current, vibrant ecology of urban galleries and studios, curated exhibitions, biennales, art schools, and colleges. Their networks involve a range of professionals, from researchers, and technicians to art managers, aside from the makers themselves. This ecology further creates platforms for cultural diplomacy and promotes cultural tourism.

Farming & Agriculture — Hand weaving in India relies heavily on yarns spun from natural fibers, of which it cultivates an outstanding variety. While cotton and silk form the largest component, the country has taken leadership in recent years in the production of fabrics created from nettle, banana, water hyacinth, ramie, and other kinds of unconventional materials as well. With handlooms providing the second largest source of livelihood after agriculture, they also offer seasonal employment to farmers in the non-farming months of the year.

Nomadic & Indigenous Traditions — Communities in many parts of India live nomadically while others represent tribal cultures. Both are observed to create handlooms for use within their families and clans, with their symbolism related to rites of passage and rituals. They also form ways of living that are closely connected to nature, from the mountainous to forests. In recent decades, efforts to transform their traditional textiles into products for markets beyond their own reflect broader changes in India in the evolution of the role of the handmade.

Festive & Occasional Wear — The design and manufacture of apparel for religious celebrations is associated with seasonal markets, along with those for bridal wear and trousseaus. Handlooms play an important role here, with specific kinds of fabrics associated with communities. As sarees, dupattas, kurtas, dhotis, and other kinds of drapes and stitched garments, such handlooms are popular within the country as well as the large number of Indians who live abroad.

Patronage & Philanthropy — The highest forms of excellence in Indian hand weaving have been kept alive through support mechanisms created by collectors and connoisseurs. The textiles produced for such buyers represent the highest end of the luxury segment and allude to how historical patronage was extended through royal and aristocratic courts. Such philanthropy, though representing a niche aspect of contemporary handlooms today, can suggest a significant route for their future.

Curators: Ms Priya Chauhan, Ms Shreya Sharma, Mrs. Suruchi Rathore (Devi Art Foundation)

360° Experience Video:


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