Hung-up on Handloom looked at bringing the traditional craft form to an urban audience. This post explores how it came together.
I curated the 'Hung-up on Handloom' series at DakshinaChitra Heritage Museum as their Program Officer. This program was held between September and October 2021. It was a hybrid session with five online sessions and five offline sessions. We had 14 resource people, of which 3 were weavers; 2 were outside India.
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DakshinaHeritage Museum prides itself in being a Living Museum. Located on East Coast Road, this Museum has 18 heritage buildings conserved. Each of these belongs to the South Indian States. It enables the Museum to present crafts and folk traditions of various communities. Website: https://www.dakshinachitra.net/
Where it all started
DakshinaChitra hosted 'A Weaving Journey - The Story of the South Indian Sari' in December 2020. As part of the research, I started reading about handloom saris. My focus was weaving from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. I soon realised the limited information that Google had to offer. I poured into books at the DakshinaChitra Library.
Saris of India: Traditions and Beyond by Martand Singh and Ṛta Kapur Chishti. It was a compilation of 20 years of ground-level research on weaving traditions from many many villages.
Indian Saris -Traditions -Perspectives – Design was an ocean detailing motifs and others
These were just 2 of over 35 books focused on South Indian Handlooms at the library.
In many houses conserved at DakshinaChitra, we had looms from different states. The houses where DakshinaChitra's Mastercraftsperson Kesavan was weaving had many who engaged with him for photos. In other houses, the looms had more potential to be engaged and built conversations around.
Putting it together
The research, observations and conversations inspired me to build conversations around Handloom. I had a few questions in front of me.
In the last 24 years, many conferences, exhibitions and seminars on Handlooms. I outlined my questions into three specific ones.
What impact was I looking to create by curating a program on Handloom?
Why should DakshinaChitra host sessions on Handloom?
Is there a need to be different, and if so, what to do?
I saw the gap - to engage with the urban population to build conversations on handloom fabrics. Very few had reasons to engage with Handloom. This is the target group I wanted to connect with.
But how to talk about Handloom without shoving it into their throats?
I sat with these questions for some days, and brainstorming with Dr Deborah Thiagarajan, Indumati, Gita Hudson, Sherin Joseph, Vishal S and others helped.
The research and discussions brought me to Hung-up on Handloom.
About the Programme
The sessions engaged both online and offline audiences.
The program looked at
Handloom & Politics
Handloom in India is political, and there is an ongoing multi-faceted discussion that already exists. To build on this conversation with insights from around the world, we had Julia Bryon-Wilson, Director of the UC Berkeley Arts Research Center. She took us through how Handloom is used to convey many different ideologies. They spoke about her book's research on feminism, craft and queer theory. The book titled was Fray: Art and Textile Politics.
Date: September 24, 2021 | Zoom
Handloom & Performing Arts
SARI was a production by the 'Daksha Sheth Dance Company, 'Asima' and 'The Sari School'. The production is a celebration of the creation of this unique drape, in constant play with the body, both in stillness and in movement. It opened up another entry point.
Date: October 2, 2021 | Zoom
Handloom and Sustainability
Isha Priya Singh hosted the Sustainability and Handloom drapes session. She has been a vocal supporter of Handloom through her Instagram handle, Desi Drapes. Her session highlighted Handloom as means of sustainable fashion. She spoke about using the same sarees in different styles and the pleasures of the unstitched fabric.
Date: October 24, 2021
Handloom and Indegenious Cotton - Kaskom
Swaminathan from Kaskom took us through cultivating an indigenous variety of cotton, its influence on the environment, and the abundant types. He emphasised how these local varieties are good for the environment. The slides showed the processes followed at Kaskom.
Date: October 24, 2021
Handloom & Gamification
The last online session was on the gamification of a weaver's design process. Madhumita Mani and Darshini Sundar designed the board game called Ettana - The Looms of Kanchi. It looked at Kanchipuram as the base. Through gameplay, players explore motifs and the strife of a weaver.
Date: October 24, 2021
A one-day offline session occurred at DakshinaChitra Seminar Hall amidst the COVID protocols. It was a series of 4 talks followed by a workshop on motifs.
Handloom and the Market
Anita Ratnam is a great admirer and supporter of handloom fabrics. She took us through the Handloom market over the years. She focused on how youngsters are embracing cloth in their own ways.
Handloom and Design Documentation
Krishnamoorthy Balaraman is a third-generation weaver. He has documented over 5000 authentic Kanchipuram designs. Many of these designs are now seen only in his documentation. He spoke about his process, his passion for designing, how weavers were natural designs, and what inspired them. He highlighted the intricacies of weaving with designs. He also displayed his works in the seminar hall.
Handloom and Technology
Contemporary artist KG Narendra Babu took us through how designing moved from paper to computers to where it is now. He gave a virtual tour of the toil a weaver goes through to get the fabric stitched.
Our in-house weaver, Mastercraftsperon Kesavan, shared his experience and joys of weaving.
Handloom and Revival
Sabita Radhakrishna spoke about her experience and the importance of revival. She has had hands-on experience with textiles for over 30 years. An active member of the Crafts Council of India. Senior Consultant CERC (Craft Educational Research Centre) Kalakshetra Foundation from 2009-2013. She shared some insights from conversations and displayed some rare saris she had with her.
Post lunch, Saravanan Lakshmanan, a designer and artist, facilitated a simple motif creation design workshop.
Post the Program
The online sessions saw many people attend by people from around the globe. It prompted a lot of discussions and opened up newer audiences for DakshinaChitra.
I would also like to think that at least a few in the audience started thinking about Handloom in their own ways and engaging with the fabric. Sadly, I do not have data to back this up.
I loved curating this program. The cross-section of people, and their perspectives, crafted each conversation. The experience was enriching for me to put together. I tried to keep a healthy mix of local, national and international influences on Handloom. There is a scope to engage with traditional crafts and folk forms in more accessible ways.
I realised it was an exercise in cultivating audiences. We reached around 250+ members online. Having active conversations also helps promote the art and practice and labour.
These conversations are the tip of the iceberg. The attention needs to go to the socio-cultural, political and economic conditions. It comes with appreciating the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) behind these craft forms.
The more I look at the ESG (Environment Social and Governance) conversations, the more I feel the wheel is reinventing.
What are your thoughts? Please share them below.
If you would like us to work together, let's do it!