'Indian dyeing art is still vibrant unlike in Japan'

'Indian dyeing art is still vibrant unlike in Japan'

'Indian dyeing art is still vibrant unlike in Japan'

This, she says, is her way of saying “thank you” to her Indian artisans whose creativity she has blended with traditional Japanese dyeing techniques to come up with innovative designs that has made her design house ‘Sind’ a name to reckon with in her country. A regular visitor to India, who works with artisans in Rajasthan and Delhi, Haraguchi talks to Utpal Borpujari of Deccan Herald on her art. Excerpts:

What is special about your exhibition?
First, the fact that all the material used is Indian while the dyeing techniques used are mostly traditional Japanese, such as Itajime or Japanese board dyeing, and Kakishibu or persimmon tannin. Also on display are Kamiko, or Japanese handmade paper garments, which is an art that is almost dead. I order my fabric from India, and I work with craftspeople from India whose expertise in gradation dye, block printing and tie & dye help me a lot.

How do you choose the craftspeople you work with?
I choose dyeing technique according to the nature of the fabric, and I go personally to the workshops. My work is a combination of different Japanese and Indian dyeing techniques. For example, Itajime is traditional dyeing for Kimonos. It is a dying art, as only a few people in the whole of Japan know this art now. I have adapted it for my fabric. It takes a long time to create each piece as everything is done by hand. I use things like Kota sarees and Indian silk as my material.

When did you first come to India and discover Indian dyeing techniques?
Mujirushi Ryohin design house in Japan had first sent me here as an advisor designer. For nine years, I came here twice a year, touring the whole of India. I made a lot of friends, and found what beautiful textile traditions India had. Later on, I formed my own company ‘Sind’ and started working with craftspeople here work. I wanted to create new designs fusing Indian and Japanese traditional designs.

Consequent to your first-ever exhibition here, do you now plan to open an outlet in India?
At the moment, I am just exploring how Indian people react to my designs. This exhibition is also my way of saying thank you to all the Indian craftsmen whom I have been working with for so many years. I even invited some of them to Japan for a holiday sometime back as a thank you gesture as whatever appreciation I have got in Japan is primarily because of their hard work. They work in very difficult conditions in India.

You have combined traditional dyeing techniques of Japan and India. How
important is it as an artist to mix elements from two cultures and create a new culture?
It is very important as it becomes more beautiful. We have only very few craftsmen who work on Japanese silk, but in India still there are thousands of artisans. Itajime is getting lost, and many other techniques have already disappeared. We have to preserve these techniques.

You have a garment created from handmade paper. Can you tell us a more about it?
This is a special garment. Earlier only the poor people used to wear handmade paper, but now it has become a fashion statement with the disappearance of craftsmen specialising in it. The paper is treated with a peculiar, special Japanese starch which makes it water proof, thus making the garment washable and durable. It is very light and comfortable to wear. To make it sturdier, there is stitch work on it. The tradition is interesting, and we are trying to preserve it with the help of my husband Richard Flavin who is a handmade paper making artist. It is practically a non-existent art now.

What has been your experience of working with Indian craftsmen?
It has been really rewarding. In India, crafts are practiced widely unlike in Japan where many of the techniques in dyeing are vanishing. The work here is vibrant, diverse and very colourful, which is why my creations get wide appreciation.
How do you think such vanishing techniques could be preserved?
We have to create awareness about these heritages of ours, and the media have to play a big role doing that. This exhibition is part of that effort. I also teach in institutions in Tokyo and Yamagata, trying to create awareness about these things.