Saffronart’s Fine Jewels and Objets and Woven Treasures

by Navneet Mendiratta

Preserved with utmost care and perfection, these are rare textile pieces that are deeply rooted in history and tradition and would well be a collector’s pride. Kashmiri Pashmina robes, Central Asian suzanis, Iranian kilims and Zoroastrian ritual sofrehs… woven treasures from India’s leading textile historian and revivalist, Jasleen Dhamija’s personal collection (acquired discerningly over six decades) are among the textiles that are set to go under hammer online of Saffronart on October 19-20. Each piece from her collection has been carefully selected for its technique, design, colours and meaning. These textiles showcase the rich traditions of Iran, Central Asia and India.
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In fact, textiles is not the only chapter that Saffronart has added to its repertoire recently. Rare pieces of jewellery, the other oldest craft traditions in the world, too would go under hammer on October 18-19. At the preview of Saffronart’s Fine Jewels and Objets and Woven Treasures: Textiles from the Jasleen Dhamija Collection, we caught up with the revivalist herself; Minal Vazirani, Co-founder, Saffronart and Dr Monisha Ahmed, a textile historian herself and curator of this collection for the auction and found out more about the auction.
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“Jasleen is a leading textile historian,” said Vazirani, introducing Dhamija.  “She has been a pioneer in the research and revival of textile traditions in India, Iran, Central Asia, South east Asia, the Balkans and even Africa over the last six decades.
She is the reason India has a crafts council. She set it up in 1964. She is also the reason we retained the textile traditions that were on the verge of dying out,” she added.
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These textiles on display are some of the rare gems Jasleen has carefully selected to part with, she disclosed, leaving it for Dr Ahmed to share more about the journey of these pieces into the auction.
“It started with Jasleen’s initiative,” said Dr Ahmed. “We went through a lot of pieces in her collection and this was what she chose.” The selection, according to Dr Ahmed, was based on the age of the piece, the beauty of the piece, the aesthetics, the techniques and what she was ready and willing to part with and to see it as a collection.
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And later, when they had all the pieces together, the collector and the curator grouped the pieces together. “We wanted to put it across as not just one textile after the other but group the pieces in a specific way so that the textiles related to the society and spoke about their meaning in our lives,” Dr Ahmed shared.
“Starting with the sacred, we looked at the textiles in nature next — whether it was flowers, birds, trees, how they were symbolic of various aspects of nature. Next, we chose the feminine, whether it was the symbolic in the textile or the use of the textile. And finally, the personification of the male through the textiles or through what they do — whether it was the nomadic lifestyle or trade and various activities they were involved with. That is how we came to the four groups that are there in the auction,” she explained.
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There are over a 100 pieces in the collection, but because of limited space, only 25 pieces were put on display at The Leela Palace, Chankyapuri. There are 82 lots in the whole auction. The collection took about 8 to 9 months to put together.
According to Dr Ahmed, the oldest pieces are about mid 19th century. “These are shawls – one or two of the old Kashmiri shawls and then maybe, one or two of the Zoroastrian pieces,” she said.
According to Jasleen, she first started collecting in 1954, which is also when she started working. In 1956, she started the revival of the textile. One or two pieces were collected at that time and the rest, late 1950s (that is, 57-58 onward).
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“The phulkaris in the collection are stunning,” said Dr Ahmed, “The one with the pigeons is one of my favourites. The three sanchis are also beautiful; the amount of detail embroidered into them is quite magnificent. To think, one woman would map out her world on the sanchi…”
The curator shared that Jasleen had her own benchmark prices and then Saffronart did their own research before pricing was arrived at. With regard to condition and certification, Dr Ahmed assured: “We have done condition reports for Saffronart. Given that the textiles have been with Jasleen for so many years, it is amazing to see how wonderfully they have been preserved. They are in fabulous condition – of course there may be a seam unraveling here or there or small wear here and there. They have been cared for and kept very safe.”
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In India, this is the first time Saffronart has done a textile auction. Though one may have seen one or two pieces come into an auction, but there has never been a full auction dedicated to textiles.
Said Dhamija: “Techniques moved with travel and designs travelled. It is amazing to see how one piece of textile was influenced by something that existed, say a 100 years ago…Everything is interlinked.” On having to part with these pieces, she said: “I have had them for a long time. It would be good that they found home.”
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In the Fine Jewels and Objets selection, Saffronart offers 93 lots and the selection offers some of the rare and precious stones from now extinct mines and Basra pearls going at amazing prices. The Objets include cigarette holders and cases, and decorated boxes, that were coveted for their craftsmanship and unique designs. Those interested can log on to Saffronart to download the catalogues for both the categories.

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