‘Travelling Patterns’ brings artworks of four different artistes – two from India and two from Germany

The exhibition is the outcome of a project that brought together the four contemporary artists and introduced them to the motifs, designs, patterns created by the kalamkari block makers 
Ruchi Shah’s creation
Ruchi Shah’s creation

While the world is falling apart in the fight for a piece of land, here’s an exhibition which raises the question: Do geographical identities inhibit the universal impact and the potential for the spread and fusion of art?

While these identities may provide art with a unique regional and cultural character, the influence exerted by art surpasses accessibility. Exploring the evolution of kalamkari, its various forms and inspired offshoots leads us to the era of European colonial rule and the transnational trade prevailing then. With a distinctive light shone on the kalamkari art of the Coromandel Coast, the Travelling Patterns project and the resulting exhibition, in partnership with Tara Books and Goethe Institute, is informed by and predicates on the story of how artistic exchange surmounts the multidimensional confines of a region to transcend and attain a universal appeal.

Travelling Patterns exhibition curated by Prarthana Karthikeyan features the works of four artists as well as kalamkari prints and blocks from the DakshinaChitra Collection. The four artists include Aditi Jain and Ruchi Shah (from India) and Henning Wagenbreth and Verena Gerlach (from Germany).

The exhibition is the outcome of a project that brought together the four contemporary artists and introduced them to the motifs, designs, patterns created by the kalamkari block makers of Machillipatnam along with the historical context and journey of this textile art.

Aditi Jain’s art
Aditi Jain’s art

Born and raised in the culturally rich city of Chennai, Aditi is a designer whose journey is woven deeply into the world of textiles. With a master’s degree in Textile Design from the National Institute of Design, Aditi’s artistic path is guided by her passion for preserving and celebrating traditional crafts.

The artist finds her calling in the realm of weaving. Her artistic philosophy is firmly rooted in her desire to be an advocate for the crafts. She believes that our crafts are an invaluable repository of cultural heritage, and her work aims to instill in people a deep appreciation for the intricate and time-honored processes that go into creating them. 

Aditi is actively engaged with the Gandhigram Khadi Trust, where she employs her design skills to re-imagine khadi fabrics, supporting the work of hand spinners and weavers. Through her work and role as a design facilitator, Aditi passionately champions the cause of sustaining and reviving traditional crafts.

Travelling Patterns is my journey in the craft and the world of making. There are a series of postcards on display of little snippets of my travel and the stories around it. There are samples which showcase my interest in a myriad different areas — all of which contribute to my work as a designer,” she says.

Aditi has a loom, on which she has woven using some scrap khadi yarn to make pouches. “Using the khadi yarn, I explored the Japanese kumihimo technique to make some interesting braids. I came across tablet weaving once and was quite engrossed in the tools and techniques. I experimented with unexpected materials, like dried banana stems typically used for stringing flower garlands and weaving them into a delightful little basket. A tool used for darning was my portable loom, allowing me to weave while travelling. I dabbled in sewing too, crafting charming rag dolls from scrap fabric, which later became treasured gifts,” Aditi tells us.

For Ruchi, working directly with the blocks and their imprints is something she always wanted to do. “In kalamkari, whether it is Srikalahasti (themes are derived from Hinduism along with nature related motifs) or the textiles produced in Machilipatnam (imagery of plants, geometric patterns cross cultural patterns derived from Persia and Europre), both have had an underlying story or subtext. The textiles have always been silent without any text and yet they have a story, message or purpose to share and communicate. The blocks by themselves could create images that speak,” she says.

While doing kalamkari, Ruchi noticed that there are geometrical blocks and organic botanical ones. She wanted to find a way to use both of them together to create the images. “The botanical blocks reminded me of plants and greenery, which I constantly miss seeing in a city. Holding onto this thought, I was able to shine a light on one of the darker but insignificant anxieties of my life, climate anxiety, which also makes me feel powerless. Every time it rains heavily, or when I see roots pushing through concrete roads, trees taking over abandoned houses, I am filled with thoughts of what might happen someday when Mother Nature decides to reclaim what’s hers,” Ruchi shares, adding, “I have never been able to voice out these thoughts until I started looking at a fabric as an empty canvas before it is overwrought with patterns and prints.”

Henning Wagenbreth’s art
Henning Wagenbreth’s art

Henning Wagenbreth is a graphic designer and illustrator from Germany. He worked as a professor of visual communication and also pursued his interest in film and theatre. The artist takes inspiration from faces, sounds, smells and views that attract him and India provides him with a “visual rush”. For this project, he started by sketching things that he saw on the streets of Chennai and then tried to arrange them into patterns. He further complemented these patterns with an image and text. His fascination towards patterns also gives him the joy of reading patterns like music. It can be noticed that every pair of lines in the design talks about “travelling” in different contexts and meanings. While reading these texts may bring a smile on your face, a deeper analysis reveals an irony that makes one think and wonder.

Art by Verena Gerlach
Art by Verena Gerlach

Verena Gerlach is a graphic and a typeface designer from Berlin West. Verena’s passion for swimming instantly attracted her to a kalamkari block that had an abstract wave pattern. It reminded her of the “meditative movement of water”. Although she initially wanted the ocean and the Tsunami that hit Chennai in 2004 to be a small part of a larger narrative representing the various facets of Tamil Nadu, it later developed into an idea where she wanted to represent only the Tsunami. Finally, she decided on delineating only the beach and its active and diverse beach life with just a small part on natural disasters.
The artist has explored and keenly observed all minute details that together form a larger landscape. The activities that one witnesses and the situations that one might encounter in a beach is primarily informed by the social culture of that particular region. This collective experience can be seen through the individual elements that form this work.

Rs150 (weekdays) & Rs 175 (weekends).

On till January 21, 10 am to 6 pm (weekdays) & 10 am to 7 pm (weekends). 
At Varija Art Gallery, DakshinaChitra Museum
Email: rupam@newindianexpress.com
X: @rupsjain

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