Spotlight on the art of Kalamkari

Timeless are the crafts from different states of our country and so is Andhra Pradesh’s Kalamkari work. Decades ago it was practised by many villages in the state but now it is restricted to only a few.

The art, therefore, is surviving because of those few artisans who practised the age-old craft technique. Paying tribute to all those artisans Bina Rao, trustee of Creative Bee Foundation in collaboration with Delhi Crafts Council has curated special collection of Kalamkari, at the ‘Tree of Life’ exhibition.

Intricate works in colourful shades on muslin silk pieces put on display are the original which were produced in the late 18th and 19th century, in Srikakahasti, Andhra Pradesh. Each piece is based on the concept of ‘Tree of Life’ which has been used in science, religion, philosophy and mythology. A common motif in various world theologies, mythologies and philosophies, it alludes to the interconnection of all life on our planet and serves as a metaphor for common descent in the evolutionary sense.

In her note Rao has said, “The name Kalamkari comes from the word kalam which means pen, as the instrument used to paint on the fabric. Though it resembles a pen, it is made of bamboo or tree bark on which an ink pad comprising a piece of cloth or cotton wool is tied. The ‘ink pad’ is dipped in colour and free hand illustrations are made on the hand-woven soft muslin cloth which is pre treated with cow milk.”

Interestingly, cow’s milk has certain natural chemicals which can bleach the cloth and prevent the colours from spreading and blotting.

Giving an insight into this age-old art practice, the note reads, “ Through the 18th and 19th centuries India exported textiles - Palampore and chintz as they were known then. The industrial revolution in the mid-19th century permanently altered the nature of this trade, particularly between India and Europe.

The hand-printed kalam-kari textiles were replaced by block and machine-printed ones produced in Europe. Within the next few decades, hand skills were completely lost from the villages in and around Machlipatnam and the entire region. The only exception was in Srikakahasti, where the artisans had fortunately retained the same hand skills and knowledge of natural dyeing, till today.”

The exhibition is on view till November 23, Art Gallery, Kamladevi Complex, India International Centre, Lodhi Estate from 11 am to 7 pm.

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