Melbourne Museum is hosting Sutr Santati: Then. Now. Next, an exhibition of specially commissioned Indian textiles, from 13 May - 3 September 2023. The exhibition is conceived and curated by Lavina Baldota who heads CSR at the Abheraj Baldota Foundation, Hosapete, Karnataka, India. ‘Sutr Santati’ translates to ‘the continuity of thread’.
Please could you tell us the meaning of the term Sutr Santati
Lavina Baldota: Sutr means thread and Santati means continuity in Hindi. The term Sutr Santati thus translates as `the continuity of thread’. As the title for this exhibition, it represents on-going dialogues, in Indian culture and society, through handmade textiles. These textiles connect the country’s past with the present in their use of material, techniques, motifs, patterns, as well as the themes, artistic styles and aesthetics that are expressed. They further explore what innovation means in the varied social, economic and geographical contexts in which they have been created.
Image: Buland-e-qala by Anjul Bhandari. Above image: Moon Birds.
Please tell us about the collection of Sutr Santati: Then. Now. Next.
Lavina Baldota: The exhibition is being held to commemorate 75 years of India’s Independence. It features 75 specially commissioned textiles by artisans, craftspeople and contemporary designers in India that have been made by individual and group efforts. Their makers identify themselves as artists, artisans, craftspeople and designers, working in diverse formats, whether companies, brands, ateliers, studios, and workshops as well as those which are home-based. They constitute a wide spectrum of creative practitioners operating in the commercial to not-for-profit sectors of textile manufacture in India, with an outstanding diversity of skills. The collection represents an incredible spectrum of traditional Indian textile techniques and their potential in creating superlative handmade textiles with an international appeal.
While originally conceived as an exhibition to celebrate 75 years of India’s birth as an independent nation, the collection equally captures a significant moment in the post-colonial history of the country when a fresh, dynamic energy is visible; even while several historical traditions may be observed to be on the decline, practitioners are finding ways to reinvent them. One sees entirely new forms and creative approaches emerging.
Which places has Sutr Santati been held?
Lavina Baldota: On 18 August 2022, Sutr Santati: Then. Now. Next. opened at the National Museum, New Delhi. The exhibition was a celebration of 75 years of India's independence through the continuum of textile heritage. The response was overwhelming. There were many visitors who visited the exhibition several times. Many design institutions brought their students as a study trip. It was a first of its kind experience to be able to see all textile tradition of India expressed in a contemporary language. The exhibition was extended by another month due to popular demand. I was requested by a representative of Museums Victoria, who had seen the exhibition in Delhi, to bring it to Melbourne.
Image: Hanging by a Thread by Lakshmi Madhavan
I would like to mention the present exhibition follows Santati - Mahatma Gandhi Then. Now. Next. held in October 2019. Santati marked the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. It was a multi-disciplinary art exhibition and Khadi A canvas with textiles designed by Gaurang Shah was a part of Santati. The textiles reinterpreted khadi that is hand-woven fabric from hand-spun yarns as a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi who encouraged Indians to hand-spin yarn and hand-weave cloth during India’s freedom movement as a means to promote self-reliance, sustainability and a circular economy.
What does Sutr Santati: Then. Now. Next. aspire to showcase at Melbourne Museum?
Lavina Baldota: Sutr Santati - Then. Now. Next. seeks to convey the diversity of traditional Indian textile techniques and the skill of India’s textile artisans, their dynamism in creating commissioned textiles, their ability to innovate. I believe that exhibitions like Sutr Santati: Then. Now. Next. create awareness of the skill of Indian textile artisans and the beauty of the textiles they create, that this awareness leads to appreciation of the same which in turn makes way for aspiration to sustain these skills and traditions.
At a time when most fabric production in the world is mechanised, handmade and hand patterned textiles suggest a slow and organic mode of consumerism which can aid in addressing global challenges of climate change, upholding dignity of labour and equitable access to global resources. From such perspectives, the vision for this exhibition is to emphasise the role of the handmade in defining a nation’s worth, and its message and contribution to the world.
Image: Nakshatra Blue by Ashiesh Shah
Please tell us about the scope of Sutr Santati?
Lavina Baldota: All the textiles are specially commissioned for the exhibition. These include hand weaving, surface embellishment, resist-dyeing, printing and painting, among other forms of yarn and fabric manipulation. The fibres employed in the commissions comprise rare varieties such as kandu and kala cotton; mulberry and the wild silks of muga, eri and tasar; camel and sheep wool; goat and yak hair; as well as lotus, banana and water hyacinth.
Natural dyes or azo-free dyes have been used for colouring yarns. The textiles have been created by artisans from different parts of India, from traditional weaving and printing clusters, from remote villages. They have been brought together on a common platform. The project also saw the involvement of students who were apprenticing with master craftspersons.
Do the textiles showcase traditional or contemporary designs?
Lavina Baldota: While all the textiles are created by handmade traditional techniques, they span both traditional and contemporary surface designs. The idea is also to express textiles beyond attire, to create textile as art, to create textile art that is local in its roots with a global appeal. .
Please could you tell us about one or two of the most unusual/exceptional textiles of the exhibition
Lavina Baldota: Each of the 75 textiles is special in its own way, reflecting exceptional collaborations between designers and artisans, and the skills of artisans in using traditional textile techniques to create a masterpiece. Among them is "Shrinathji", a textile depicting the deity Shrinathji created in double-ikat weave, designed by Gaurang Shah and woven in Patan, Gujarat. Creating this textile required detailed planning and perfect execution. Double-ikat that typically features repeat motifs is an intensive process; however, as this textile features a large non-repeat form it was even more intensive.
Another is "Awakening", a beautiful kani textile representing the kundalini, a form of energy believed to be located at the base of the spine, designed by Gaurav Gupta and woven using zari that is metal yarns, by Waseem Ahmad in Kashmir. It features an unusual use of imagery in the traditional Kashmir shawl. Yet another is "River of Gold" designed by Swati Agarwal and Sunaina Jalan, and created by Lallu Kanojia and Bachhi Ram using the rare technique of rangkaat, known for its typical colour blocked geometrical patterns, but attempted — for the first known time — in the creation of organic, free hand drawn-like forms.
Image: Purnamidam by Smitri Morarka
Do you feel India has the world’s most diverse traditional textile techniques?Lavina Baldota: Absolutely
How did you develop an interest in Indian textiles?
Lavina Baldota: I love crafts and arts, and interacting with artists and artisans. In my capacity as head of CSR at the Abheraj Baldota Foundation, a Trust with Gandhian values, I have curated textile exhibitions. All my efforts are collaborative with synergy of many hands, minds and hearts.
I have has been working towards the preservation and promotion of arts and crafts for over two decades. My mother is my first influencer. I still enjoy rummaging through her cupboards that have beautiful hand-woven saris. Another influence has been use of Khadi that is hand-woven fabric from hand-spun yarns. I have grown up seeing my grandfather, grandfather-in-law and father-in-law only wear Khadi. Khadi for me has been a symbol of belief of patriotism.
Please share future plans for the exhibition
Lavina Baldota: I plan to take Sutr Santati" Then. Now. Next. to cities in India and abroad. I would like to take the exhibition to museums across the world where art and textile lovers could see these superlative contemporary masterpieces of Indian textiles. I would be happy to hear from museums who would be interested in the same.
Sutr Santati" Then. Now. Next. is on show at Melbourne Museum from 13 May until 3 September 2023. Find out more about Sutr Santati" Then. Now. Next. here.
In conjunction with the exhibition, Sutr Santati Symposium on Indian textiles and contemporary contexts will be held on Friday 12 May 2023. Fore more details and to book your ticket visit the event website here.
Lavina Baldota is contactable via email: email@example.com
Text by Brinda Gill
Images Courtesy of the Sutr Santati Team