Gandhian Art

by Team ACF

Gurgaon-based visual artist Shelly Jyoti’s artistic engagement with Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of swadharmaswaraj and swadeshi began way back in 2008 when she collaborated with American artist Laura Kina to examine the politics of indigo in India’s freedom struggle. Jyoti has since then made Gandhian ideals the very essence of her art practice and has time again used khadi as the medium for her textile-based art installations. She will now be showing a new body of work titled The Khadi March: Just Five Meters at the Visual Arts Galley in New Delhi starting October 20

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In the current show, Jyoti uses khadi both as a symbol and as a material that expresses qualities of self-purification, self-reliance and independence. The exhibitiondesigned to be really a study for those who want to understand what the khadi movement stands for, is based on Gandhi’s proposition that simply by buying five yards of khadi, India’s growing urban population can transform the lives of rural spinners, weavers, and traditional artisans by enriching their livelihood. 

For her artworks, Jyoti has worked extensively with 10th generation Ajrakh textile artisans based in Bhuj, Gujarat. Utilising printing blocks that are two to three hunderd years old, Jyoti’sindividual pieces draw attention to a shared history whose preservation is currently threatened by the forces of globalization. “The khadi artworks have been made using the fiber and natural dyesof Ajrakh traditions. It’s a great learning experience and the ajrakh artisans are also very generous in sharing their techniques and processes. They enjoy the new element that I bring in to their run-of-the-mill work and they go back learning stories of nationalist era and are more joyful in creating these works.

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She also uses the traditional running stitch from West Bengal called kantha in her textile artworks to explore the creative space of women of Bengal who have migrated to Delhi and NCR in last one decade. She notes:  I engage these women to give them small jobs and explore their inherent talent. Running stitch has also a decorative and aesthetic appeal.

The featured works include several khadi site-specific installations, 20 Ajrakh textile artworks, a multi-media spoken poetry art and a documentary of Ajrakh textile process.  The Yarn Wheelfor instance, is a site-specific installation made up of 1000 bunches of handspun cotton yarncapturing the meditative process of the spinning wheel in stark contrast to machine made thread, while Connecting Gandhi’s Nation is made up of Contemporary Blouses, Ajrakh Gandhi caps, Ajrakh stoles, Sculptured buttons and Ajrakh samplers

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I am exploring the role of clothing as movement for social change. I am trying to explore the idea of khadi as a visual expression of national identity and also as a commodity in 21st century to give spinners and weavers a more organized source of livelihood,” she says.

The idea of consumption of hand-woven handspun cloth by urban people is to establish connect between urban and rural brethren. Among the Ajrakh textile artworks, there are wall pieces titled Lend A Hand (a diptych work exploring the idea for lending support to weavers and artisans in rural India), Timeless Silhouettes: Angrakhas & Timeless Silhouettes: Blouses (documenting Azrakh patterns and styles worn by Indian women of India in the 21st century) among other works. Her multi-media video presentation will have 143 lines of spoken poetry written by her after her visit to Dandi in 2013, as an appeal to inspire the urban population to pause and think about their ‘swadharma’ towards their nation.

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