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Delhi weekend: Meet and interact with rafoogars on the art of darning

Rafoogars explain why they are invisible, like their work.

art and culture Updated: Apr 12, 2018 18:48 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
Najibabad,Priya Ravish Mehra,Rafoogar
Arif Anvar, Mohammad Zakir and Intekhab Ahmed are sixth generation rafoogars from Najibabad, Uttar Pradesh.(Burhaan Kinu/HT PHOTO)

Three rafoogars from Uttar Pradesh’s Najibabad town are answering questions about their craft at the inauguration of the exhibition ‘Making Visible: The Rafoogars and the Journey of a Shawl,’ at the art gallery of the India International (IIC) Annexe. “Yes, it is possible,” said Nadeem Anvar, one of the rafoogars, when asked if he could stitch a random pattern on a jamawar shawl. One of the visitors to the exhibition has not even heard of Anvar’s hometown, the hub of darning. “It is near Haridwar, ma’am,” said Anvar, bowing slightly to her.

“We get work from studios and private clients. We also travel in search of work. We are in Delhi for around five months every year, when the business of Kashmiri shawl traders is at peak. They give us work,” said Anvar’s fellow rafoogar, Mohammad Zakir, when a visitor asks him how he survives by carrying forward an art that people are barely aware of.

The rafoogars from Najibabad specialise in the darning of shawls.

Parallel to the exhibition, a two-day baithak of six rafoogars skilled in darning and mending different kinds of shawls, carpets and rugs, will be conducted over the weekend. Apart from the fact that darning is a lesser known craft, what is tragic is that rafoogars are becoming extinct with every passing year. In Najibabad, only 12 families are carrying forward the tradition. “Among all the ancient textiles that are available, the largest collection is that of shawls. And shawls were not possible without rafoogars. They are the ones responsible for maintaining and preserving these marvellous pieces,” said Ritu Sethi, chairman, Craft Revival Trust, who has collaborated with Priya Ravish Mehra (Delhi textile artist, researcher and designer) and IIC for the event.

Traditionally, rafoogars operate in baithaks or groups of three to five in a karkhana (workshop). “It is a collaborative effort in which seniors mentor young artists, and together, they discuss how best to fix a piece. It needs both patience and precision,” said Anvar.

At the baithak at IIC, Anvar and other rafoogars will demonstrate their craft and discuss the significance of the ‘invisible’ practice of darning to assert the value of their community in the social and cultural domain.

Priya Ravish Mehra has been working with the rafoogars since 2003 to make their invisible art visible. Shivani Karmarkar, who works closely with Mehra, said, “Traditionally, the art itself is such that the result is supposed to be hidden. The fact that rafoo or darning is not shown is the proof of its success. Rafoogars going into oblivion is also a reflection of how society looks at damage. No one wants to acknowledge that somebody fixed what they are re-using.”

The workshop will also remove misconceptions about darning. “The common notion is that rafoo is done only after the garment is damaged. That’s not true. Even as you are making a piece, it can get damaged. There are rafoogars within factories fixing the pieces as they are produced. Therefore, a rafoogar is an extremely important cog in the textile machinery,” said Karmarkar.

WHAT: Rafoogar baithak

WHEN: Between 11am- 6pm, April 14, 15

WHERE: Art Gallery, IIC Annexe, Lodhi Road

NEAREST METRO STATION: Jorbagh

First Published: Apr 12, 2018 18:42 IST