Our crafts persons have imbued things of everyday use with great beauty and I believe that art is inseparable from an aesthetic life.
I feel very humbled and super excited as my dream project on wearable art, Ehsaas, is being screened at the National Gallery of Modern Art on November 17 this week as part of the Delhi International Arts Festival. For the film to be screened in the museum is a matter of both prestige and pride for I feel that the project deserves to be viewed in the context of a museum situation. A lot of fashion in India in any case has not been seen in the historical context and connect and this unique marriage of the arts with design and
fashion certainly deserves to be viewed and experienced in that backdrop.
It has been a long journey to get to this point for obvious reasons: Funding for arts projects has always been a problem and but for the support of the artists and art community it would have remained at the level of a dream. I have been asked many times as to what does Ehsaas mean.
I think the word Ehsaas defies translation or even transliteration. It is the gossamer delicate feeling or emotion that is gentle as a silent whisper and yet inspires you to take the dream from the realm of the idea to actualising it.
I felt that the way the entire project was conceived and grew, it too defied a definition – it could only be experienced from the core of one’s soul.
For me wearable art was a natural progression. I am a regular sari wearer for the last 40 years and till date I have worn nothing that is not hand woven or hand crafted.
For such an unabashed handloom supporter and painter, it was a natural that I would want to be swathed in art. Why should art only be on the wall? It should be all around you! As walls of homes shrink, our wardrobes burst! Hence Ehsaas, to have art in every breath!
I am a great believer in the genius of our craftspersons, weavers and artisans and hold them in high esteem for it is they who have given cult status to our crafts and handlooms. In the same way, unlike any other country in the world, in India every lowly souvenir can actually be hand created.
Our crafts persons have imbued things of everyday use with great beauty and I believe that art is inseparable from an aesthetic life. Ehsaas takes this philosophy many steps further by its saris, stoles, ties, jewellery, bags and of course art on the walls.
And while I got artists, dancers and musicians on board, there were no designers to manipulate silhouette as I am completely besotted by the romance of the unstitched garment be it the sari, stole, dupatta, dhoti or pugree.
All these allow for great freedom of movement and styles of drape and are able to keep within their ambit the personality, body shape, weather conditions, material, occasion and profession of the wearer. This respect for India’s heritage let me to think only of the unstitched cloth as my canvas in Ehsaas.
I am deeply influenced by the weavers of India and Ehsaas saris and stoles are my humble tribute to their mastery and genius. I hope that Ehsaas will go a long way in changing attitudes about art being unapproachable.
Re-focusing on beauty and aesthetics of clothes too is on my wish list.
A lot of the wearable art in West have very avant garde designs, often merging technology with it but in many ways Ehsaas goes back to the roots.
So many of our tribal and folk designs are chic and minimalistic and extremely contemporary but we don’t value or appreciate their design value or perfection of minimalism.
In most museums and art galleries abroad, scarves and ties are available as replicas from the art works on display. Why should Indian art not enjoy the same cult status? In India we have the option of harnessing both technology and hand work or both to create works of wearable art. Why shouldn’t we use that advantage? I feel that fashion is seasonal. Yet it can’t be wished away. Style is what defines a person. Art is more permanent of all. And so I feel fashion and art both must contribute in creating that indescribable factor called style. I am a painter who likes the abstract idiom. So it was only natural that I chose three abstract painters – Manisha Gawade, Shridhar Iyer and myself. While Shridhar’s idiom is very contemporary and is compatible with both yin and yang energies, it allows freedom to create from it. Manisha’s painting is elegant, the colours she uses are internationally preferred, the complexity of thought in her work is interesting.
My own sensibilities too have an Indian rootedness with minimalistic flavour and colours but there is a celebration of design too.
As for figurative art, I find it regional and often static. But I find that in the work of Prof Niren Sengupta, there is a lot of movement and he constantly aspires to make his art grow. Despite his seniority, he is young at heart and in his art too. His colour palette is vibrant, Indian in metaphor and beautiful. Sanjay Bhattacharya too has a masterly stroke as his leit motif. He is the veritable master of the realistic genre. The collective qualities of these senior artists made the design sensibilities of Ehsaas special.
That the works are contemporary is a given and I feel all of the five painters who I choose – including myself, are artists whose work is reflective of the times we live in. Our idiom is contemporary so is our artistic expression.
The legendary performing artistes who walked the ramp wearing them including Birju Maharaj, Sonal Mansingh, Shovana Narayan, Madhup Mudgal, Bhajan Sopori, Uma Sharma, Sharon Lowen, among others with their very distinct personalities gave the figurative component to
“static contemporary art” and made it a mobile installation.
These artistes not only define Indian culture but are repositories of culture who have kept it safe for the future generations.
It started out as a serious experiment to transpose paintings on to fabric to take art from the walls and create works of wearable art. Eventually, it came to become one of the biggest, first-ever multi-discipline presentation where nine forms of rasas converge. Art, design, music, dance, theatre, handlooms, literature and poetry, photography, and now film have all contributed to the creation of Ehsaas.
That is why when I dreamt of Ehsaas, I wanted its wing span to be huge. I felt that it should reflect the shared heritage of Indian culture. I see it permeate every sphere of life and living. This time one more dimension has got added to Ehsaas by way of a very lyrical film on the project by theatre and film personality Rajesh Tailang that will be screened followed by a panel discussion.
For me Rajesh was always my dear friend Sudhir Tailang’s very gentle and affectionate kid brother. Sudhir was there when the first Ehsaas was staged. And the seamless way Rajesh has become such an inseparable part of Ehsaas can only be a blessing from Sudhir.
It is my conviction that if a dream is only about you, then it is too small. For me Ehsaas is a dream that refused to die.
I have nurtured this dream for five years, with deep conviction and love. The only thing that kept me going was the creative need to share it more people and the greed of being able to see it again and yet again…
Dr Alka Raghuvanshi is an art writer, curator and artist and can be contacted on email@example.com