2nd of October is a national holiday to mark the birth anniversary of the father of the nation- Mahatma Gandhi and incidentally, former Prime Minister of India, Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri share his birthday with him. These social artists have helped a lot in laying the foundation of modern India. Similarly, the torchbearer of modern art in India, Shri Raja Ravi Varma, flew off to the heavenly abode on this day leaving behind a legacy. He was much ahead of his time when he embraced the European style of contemporary art paintings.
European art is all about every type of visual form of art of Europe from the Twentieth century. Raja Ravi Varma was being criticized for using this style in his painting. He was being looked down upon because he used to paint his figurines yellowish like the European art-making them look fair as color of Indian’s skin is dark. He even made his figures look bold at the time when Indian society was very sensitive.
European art contemporary to Raja Ravi Varma was treading on the lines of glorifying the aesthetic beauty that was appealing to the eyes. Art at that time didn’t recognize abstraction as a form of art i.e. it didn’t acknowledge the factor of deviating from the concrete forms of our existence and reality.
Varma incorporated this style into indigenous traditional forms and managed to create magic by the fusion of different forms. As he was a member of the royal family of Travancore, he had access to all the means at his disposal that he needed to study and incorporate the latest techniques of academic European fine art. That being said, he could be called as a forerunner of contemporary art. You may find the critical appraisals of his.
Gaurang Shah is a fashion designer from Hyderabad who came into limelight for recreating the works of Laxman Aelay in the year 2012 on sarees using the Jamdani technique from Bengal for weaving sarees. His ingenious work caught the attention of Lavin Baldota of the Baldota Foundation. She liked his work so much that she offered him an arrangement to work together.
After five years, she introduced her to the Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation. She wanted him to recreate the works of Raja Ravi Varma in Khadi. The aim was to commemorate the contribution of both the stalwarts to their respective fields. They had more things in common just than a date i.e. they both were fearless, boundless, and revolutionary.
Raja Ravi Varma took birth on 29 April 1848 in the royal palace of Kilimanoor, Travancore. He shared his lineage with the Royal Family of Travancore, now Kerela. He was a true artist as he wanted that art should be accessible to all. He used to paint lithographs so that they could be purchased by the poor. He was bestowed Kaisar-i-Hind gold medal to acknowledge his prowess and contribution towards promoting art by the then Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon.
The art exhibition was named as Khadi, A Canvas. It took a year to take this project on board. The attempt is made to replicate the contemporary art paintings of the celebrated Malayali artist through weaving. The renowned and well-acclaimed works are weaved into the pallu of a sari by incorporating a special weaving technique i.e. Srikakulam Jamdani.
Shah and his team have put their sincere efforts into this project. They have curated the dyes from natural extracts to make them resemble the original work of art as much as possible. 200 Kg of yarn was dyed into 600 shades of colors.
The secret of generating these paintings lies in the technique of weaving the sari. In fact, the form was specially chosen because one may weave the whole painting without repeating the patterns as is done in Bengali Jamdani, Banarsi, Kanchivaram, or Paithani.
A replica of a painting of six meters is laid down beneath for the reference. The project has also generated a respectable amount of job opportunities for farmer women who were previously involved in either manual labor or farming. Although, they took training for some years that requires concentration and dedication.
The exhibition displayed thirty sarees prepared under the project. The exhibition was organized by Google Art and Culture at gallery G, Lavalle Road at Bangalore in collaboration with Abheraj Baldota Foundation, Gaurang Shah, and The Raja Ravi Varma Heritage Foundation. Gaurang had showcased his designs for the first time in the coveted Lakme Fashion Week in the year 2012.
From then, he had become the talk of the town. He now hosts many stores across the country and could be spotted at fashion shows regularly. Like his work, his train of clients is also diverse i.e. from members of politics to Bollywood. According to him,” My saris are masterpieces—some take weeks to make, others take two-three years.”
He wanted to go to museums for a long time. He displayed his saris for a museum in December of the last year. The exhibition- Interlace was housed at the prestigious Bikaner House in Delhi. His new and refreshing collection of Jamdani saris were exhibited with a film. Among other things, the session showed how these sarees were woven and how a loom for weaving is installed.
There was a fashion show that stole the hearts of the spectators. When asked what purpose does this hybrid event served, he said that he wants to aware of the people of India about handlooms and the legacy they carry. He made his point through his statement. He said, if you ask someone what Jamdani is, they will say Bangladesh or Bengal. They will never say Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh or Maharashtra. For them, Jamdani is a sari, but it is actually a weaving technique,” as reported by Livemint in their 19th January edition.
It is a universal fact that nothing can grow in isolation. Art enthusiasts lookout for these types of innovations. These types of hybrid events should be organized more as they would promote art and our rich diversity both nationally and internationally.