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Khadi: From symbol of India’s freedom to fashion statement

To help promote local artisans and weavers across the country, an exhibition here seeks to encourage larger use of Khadi - a fabric that has transformed from being a symbol of India’s freedom struggle to become a style statement.

fashion and trends Updated: Oct 25, 2016 20:18 IST
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Khadi

Titled The Khadi March: Just Five Meters, the solo show by Shelly Jyoti at India Habitat Centre in Delhi underlines the importance of khadi portraying the fabric as a mark of self-purification, self-reliance and independence.(Shutterstock)

To help promote local artisans and weavers across the country, an exhibition here seeks to encourage larger use of Khadi - a fabric that has transformed from being a symbol of India’s freedom struggle to become a style statement.

Titled The Khadi March: Just Five Meters, the solo show by Shelly Jyoti at India Habitat Centre in Delhi underlines the importance of khadi portraying the fabric as a mark of self-purification, self-reliance and independence.

“The show is a call to action that challenges people who live in urban cities to grant dignity to the rural brethren and to rethink our engagement with the spinners, weavers and people who work with handicrafts in the villages.

“It is designed to be a study for those who want to understand what the khadi movement stands for, and what it has been able to do,” says Jyoti.

According to the artist, following Mahatma Gandhi’s proposition of buying ‘five yards of khadi’ each, India’s urban population can transform the lives of rural artisans and enrich their livelihoods.

“Five meters of cloth is an individual’s necessity to cover themselves. So, I wanted to explore the 300 million urban population for whom buying just 5 meters of khadi is not a big thing but their efforts can change the life of millions in the rural areas,” she says.

One of the installations titled, ‘The Yarn Wheel’ has been made up of 1000 handspun cotton yarns to capture the meditative process of spinning the wheel in stark contrast to machine made thread.

Jyoti has worked extensively with Ajrakh artisans from Kutch and with kantha embroiderers from West Bengal for the show that features several khadi installations, 20 Ajrakh textile artworks, a multi-media spoken poetry art and a documentary on Ajrakh textile process.

“While working with those who have inherited these textile traditions and are passing them on to the next generations, I have been able to see through the critical relationship between an artisan as a creator and an artist as a visualizer,” she says.

Using khadi as the ground for processes of traditional dyeing and embroidery, Jyoti’s images employ symbolic forms with decorated surfaces to highlight aspects of India’s long and complex history. “Khadi is such an eco-friendly, comfortable and vibrant fabric. It can become a fabric from our freedom struggle to a fashion statement in the present world,” she says.

Utilising printing blocks that are two to three hundred years old, Jyoti says her individual pieces draw attention to a shared history whose preservation is currently threatened by the forces of globalization.

Traditional Bengali artform of Kantha Stitch also finds place is some of her creations. She explores the creative space of women in Bengal who have migrated to Northern India in the past decade.

“I engage these women to give them small jobs and explore their inherent talent. Running stitches also have a decorative and aesthetic appeal,” she says.

The artist was also part of a recent event organised by Yes Institute at Bikaner House here. Titled ‘Poetics of Khadi: Cutting across Time and space’, the discussion focused on the “idea of khadi as a visual expression of national identity.”

“I am trying to explore the role of clothing in a movement of social change, while exploring khadi as a commodity in 21st century to give spinners and weavers a more organized source of livelihood. “The idea of consumption of hand-woven handspun cloth by urban people is to establish connect between urban and rural brethren,” she says. Another site specific installation,

‘Just Five Yards’ made up of 9 khadi hand bags, is inspired from Gandhi’s khadi bulletin published in 1931, that propagated the ideal of swadharma. “The idea was that rather than giving one’s money to the British industry, one should contribute to the livelihood of local villagers and thus become ‘a moral consumer’ building a national community,” she says. The exhibition is on view till October 26.

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