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Indian Art
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I was intrigued when I heard handloom revivalist and designer Smriti Morarka had been invited by the Turkish Embassy in New Delhi to create a Benaras gully and bring alive the experience of live looms, classical music and exquisite creations from her own looms. In conversation with her on the eve of this exciting exhibit.


''I had, for long, wanted to do something — something with a difference. With time on my hands and a degree of creativity in me — I had no wish to go through life without giving it my best shot! It was my fortune that I was born in a family of 'art collectors' and married into a family of 'Freedom Fighters'. This provided an ideal environment for me, a student of history and political science, to both root myself in the part and work towards a plan for a better tomorrow.


My mother has spent the last number of decades in nurturing and building a national institute doing research in Indology, Religion and Cultural Studies in Varanasi.  This brought me in close contact with the magical handloom sector of Kashi and in no time, I was consumed in the euphoria of the potential of these textiles along with the reality of the challenge that this sector faced. The handloom weavers at the time looked at a future that appeared both grim and relentlessly hopeless. Having had the privilege of being born and brought up in a family who possessed and passionately collected antiquity, art objects and old textiles, it was easy for me to relate to the old motifs and patterns. Being a keen student of history, my sensitivity to the environment of yesteryears was but logical. And, this is what propelled me to decide to work in the handloom sector. After beginning a dialogue with weavers, I realized that although the challenge lay in reviving the weaving traditions of yore, it was even more difficult to make the product marketable and affordable. When I started off, my focus was to explore and explain these textiles to people and hoped that they would respond and a demand be created. Having attempted to better the lives of hundreds of artisans in the last two decades has been a humbling and gratifying experience and we hope to continue un-faltered in this endeavour in the coming years too with the support of the growing numbers of patrons that graciously seek out our products.


I have also made an effort to transform the textiles and motifs. With the coming of the British, the design sensibilities in Varanasi textiles underwent a shift towards large exaggerated motifs, long pallavs, untidy handwork and use of lower grade raw material all in the name of catering to the tastes of western markets and mass scale production of cheaper fabrics. The fabrics being made had lost its softness and delicate design. My detailed readings and understanding of the Varanasi textile strengthened my conviction that our design sensibilities since ancient times, were timeless and if revived effectively, would be relevant today and in the years to come. The route I followed was to correct the maladies in the design and textile rather than making a new format.


The initial years of hesitation on the part of the weavers to accept my suggestions to their existing design sensibilities has now given way to them welcoming it and enthusiastically using it in their work. Memories are many. Infact, just a short while ago, while I was designing this season's collection one of my weavers turned around and said that working on these designs and techniques of weaving them felt just like a NASA research lab. He joked that we were creating a research lab for the weaving community. For me that was deeply satisfying to hear that I had been able to bring back a hunger and thirst for technique and intricacy. That said, there are very few artists who know the technique because patrons who understand it are fewer. Paucity of people willing to put money on high quality weaves is what has caused a lot of weavers to ignore technique. Even as far back in history as the human mind can recall, it was patronage alone that made art thrive. As long as a weaver gets patronage he'll be motivated to innovate; if we as a society don't understand the art, or patronise, we are purely to blame if the art form goes down.


What initiatives have I taken to connect affluent buyers who appreciate it with weavers who labour tirelessly to create each masterpiece? Unfortunately we live in different times from the good old days. Earlier artists were greatly respected and patronised and infact given a free hand to take as long as they desired to create what they felt like and give their hundred per cent into their art. The patrons gladly funded their creativity. Sadly now such patrons don't exist. Moreover, with the mushrooming of semi-power and powerlooms that are more than eager to copy handloom designs and drown the market with cheap pass-offs, the talented handloom weaver feels compelled to lead a life of obscurity so that no one can trace his roots or access his designs. He fears that what takes him a year to weave will be copied in a matter of days and all his efforts will go waste. Our endeavour at Tantutvi was therefore two-fold, to first bring back quality patrons. Secondly, to bring these weavers to the fore with dignity. The journey has been long to achieve the first part, but with perseverance and a lot of love and indulgence from society, we have achieved it and believe we will be successful in fighting fakes and achieving our second objective soon.


The craft is passed down generations but today what do children of weavers feel? theyhave for too long seen their family struggle with poverty, lead a life of obscurity and struggle to live with dignity, for them to gravitate to this art. They are enamoured with other vocations not because their hearts do not love this art or because they don't find it creatively satisfying, but because they realise that ultimately they need money to light the kitchen fire and feed their families. If we want this to change we have to encourage them, indulge them and give them hope that they can pursue this vocation and still be financially secure. Tantutvi strives to be that change.


On a more personal note… let me tell you a little about my own collection. Each piece is hand drawn by me and there is no single thought around which the collection is centred. It is often a culmination of various inspirations. Each one of them is special to me and impossible for me to pick a favorite!''

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