Reading the fine print
Artist Shelly Jyoti’s solo show draws inspiration from Gandhi’s Salt March, and the centuries-old Ajrakh printing tradition
Artist Shelly Jyoti has been exploring some significant moments in India’s freedom struggle in her work for at least six years. Her Indigo series was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s movement in the 1910s to help farmers who were being forced to grow indigo instead of food crops. In 2013, she followed up that exhibition with her first take on Gandhi’s Dandi March, in Salt: The Great March. Her second iteration on that historic march to challenge the colonial law which taxed Indians for salt production, opens at the India International Centre in New Delhi today, and continues her explorations into the present-day relevance of Gandhi’s philosophies of “swadharma and sarvodaya”. The hope, she explains in an email interview, is that these principles can still help build an alternative world view; one where girls don’t have to live in fear of rape, for example. Edited excerpts:
What inspires you to create your art?
Tell us about your process of discovery, of finding and highlighting elements like a 200-year-old block used in Ajrakh printing for this exhibition.
I began my journey for Salt: The Great March after reading Mark Kurlansky’s book Salt: A World History (Penguin Books, 2003). I then proceeded with a deeper enquiry into Gandhi’s historical salt march. At the same time, my research in Ajrakh printing and quilting on Khadi became a parallel exploration. I have been working with ninth and 10th generations of Ajrakh artisans in Bhuj since 2009. My aesthetic decisions regarding this particular textile printing and dyeing technique have been shaped by a sense of responsibility to help preserve these elaborate textile processes by converting the printing technique itself into contemporary works of art.
The wooden blocks used for my contemporary printed works date back to about 200 years in design history. The design blocks referenced in my work are known in local languages as kankharak, rialgad, bodyrial, zimardi, beediboota, asopalav, nipuri, champakali, pancho, keribel, mijidbel. To enhance my textile pieces, I have also employed traditional needlecraft techniques with the sujni and nakshi kantha (running-stitch needlework) stitches belonging to eastern India, which date back to the18th century.
How do ideas like non-violence and self-sufficiency play out in this exhibition?
The multimedia video installation, Sarvodaya Is My Polestar, is a 120-line poem on the present-day relevance of Gandhi’s philosophy of swadharma and sarvodaya, which integrates non-violence and self-sufficiency. The poem was my first outburst in the Salt artwork series in 2010. It has taken me four years to assimilate, research and create this body of work. I kept building the rest of the artworks, like the site-specific installations Integrating Khadi and The Threads Of Swaraj, around it.
Salt: The Great March II (Re-Contextualizing Ajrakh Textile Traditions On Khadi In Contemporary Art And Craft) is on till 15 September, 11am-7pm, at The Art Gallery, India International Centre, New Delhi. The show will travel to The DakshinaChitra museum in Chennai from 2 October-2 November, and to the US in 2015.
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