Even a trained eye would find it hard to decipher the brushstrokes in S.H. Raza’s iconic painting, the 1995 Bindu. A 6x6ft woven rendition of the work captures the master’s marks using differently coloured yarn—so nuanced, despite its scale, that you might still miss it.
Later this month, works by around 20 artists and designers—including Raza, M.F. Husain and Jehangir Sabavala and younger, cutting-edge fashion designers and artists such as Manish Arora and Thukral & Tagra—will share a massive exhibition space. The works will be available in two sizes, 6x6ft and 5x7ft.
Out of the box: Sethi (left) and Gandhi with some of the carpets that will go on sale. Priyanka Parashar/Mint
The exhibition is a fund-raiser for the animal welfare organization People for Animals (PFA). Spearheaded by member of Parliament and animal-rights activist Maneka Gandhi, this will be yet another in the line of PFA’s innovative charities: The artworks will be available in the form of handwoven carpets, their sizes being offset by a relatively modest price range of Rs35,000-5 lakh.
The carpets are currently hung in two gallery spaces at the Sunil Sethi Design Alliance in Delhi, where they’re being sorted and catalogued in preparation for the show. They’ve been created by traditional weavers from Varanasi and Panipat but come with a certificate of authenticity from the artists, who have sanctioned their translations from canvas to pure wool. So true is the likeness that they look like two-dimensional paintings from one end of the gallery. It is only when one comes closer that one can feel the richness of the wool, the mottled texture and fine play of dye.
Gandhi started collecting art at the age of 18 and has been using her art acumen to raise money for PFA since 1987, when she organized their first art exhibition. Over the years, she has raised money for PFA through the sale of studio pottery, Raja Ravi Varma oleographs, tiles from old havelis and gem-encrusted paintings of Shrinathji.
She got in touch with Sunil Sethi about a year ago when she began to muse over the possibility of “art carpets”—Sethi is not only the president of the Fashion Design Council of India, but has around 22 years of experience in the Indian carpet industry.
The money raised from the sale of these signed limited-edition carpets (20 of each artist except Husain; 10 of his will be on sale) will be used to complete a special animal hospital that is already under construction in Yusuf Sarai, New Delhi. With 26 under their belt, and two more under way, PFA presently has the largest network of animal hospitals and rescue centres in Asia.
Gandhi says the transition from canvas to carpet didn’t come about easily. After having collected works by artists who shared their work on a pro-bono basis, she realized a lot of wonderful artwork simply wouldn’t translate to wool. “The weavers had a very strong say in what artworks we finally chose to work with,” she says, adding that the weavers were apprehensive at first too.
“Carpet weavers across the world are largely used to working with traditional colours and motifs. Some of what we showed them was totally bizarre for their tastes but a sense of adventure prevailed and they agreed to take these on,” says Gandhi.
Sethi, who is supervising the manufacturing of the carpets, says each design went through about four rounds of rejection to achieve the sophistication of the originals.
The exhibition is a motley round-up of classic art as well as quirky design, such as Arora’s fuchsia and bottle-green designs and the 35-year-old artist Farhad Hussain’s eclectic visions. None of the designs have explicit animal motifs, except one by Hussain. “Even if people are passionate about animals, nobody wants a dog on their living room wall,” Gandhi explains.
Fly your Own Carpet to your Walls will run from 27-29 August at The Lalit New Delhi, Barakhamba Avenue. Visit http://event.peopleforanimalsindia.org/ to view and pre-order carpets.