Kutch textiles: Ajrakh & blockprinting in Ajrakhpur

Posted on April 25, 2019 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

Ajrakhpur

Ajrakhpur

Ajrakhpur – the land of Ajrakh

 

Before my trip to India, my knowledge on Indian textiles was minimal, yet the textiles workshop at Somaiya Kala Vidya (see my earlier post) completely opened my eyes. I did not realise that block printing is such a complex and time-consuming process, especially when only natural dyes are used. The ajrakh printing techique is an ancient craft with a history of over 4000 years, and it is believed to be originated from Sindh along the Indus River (now Pakistan). Since it uses natural dyes only, the process would require weeks of work which includes multiple times of dyeing and washing. Sadly, the introduction of chemical dyes from the West led to the decline of this ancient craft at the end of the nineteenth century.

In recent years, the revival of ajrakh printing has been credited to a 10th generation master craftsman, Dr. Ismail Mohammed Khatri. Originally from Dhamadka (about 50 km east of Bhuj), a famous ajrakh village where artisans of the Khatri community resided, Dr. Ismail Khatri and many of the artisans had to leave their ancestral homes and relocate to Ajrakhpur, 15 km SE of Bhuj. The reason for this migration was due to the the drying up of the river caused by the earthquake in 2001 (since water is an essential element of this craft).

With the help of the Maiwa Foundation from Canada, and orders from India’s most renowned ethnic collection studio, Fab India, Dr. Ismail Khatri's workshop started to thrive after the resettlement. Not only he was awarded an honorary doctorate from De Montfort University in Leicester in 2003, he also won the UNESCO Award Seal of Excellence for handicrafts in 2008 and 2012 for his dedication to this craft. Now he still runs the studio with his two sons, Sufiyan and Juned.

 

Ajrakh studio  Ajrakh studio

Ajrakh studio

Ajrakh studio  Ajrakh studio

Ajrakh studio

 

Now the Ajrakh Studio has become a popular destination for foreigners who are interested in ajrakh and Kutch textiles. The new spacious studio, designed by Indigo Architects, opened in 2017 and has a retail shop and a hall where visitors can view a film on the ajrakh craft.

We met Juned and he led us to the printing workshop and explained the process involved in ajrakh printing. The un-dyed fabric is first cut into 9 meter lengths, then washed to remove starches, wax and impurities, followed by dyeing it with myrobalan. A wooden block hand-carved with traditional designs is seleced, coated in lime and Acacia gum (as a resist) and pressed onto the cloth at regular intervals. The artisans continue the process with different blocks and coating them in dyes, aligning them with previous prints, then pressing them onto the fabric. After each colour of print, artisans have to rinse and sun-dry the cloth. This process would be repeated with each layer of colour, hence it is extremely arduous and time-consuming.

 

Ajrakh studio

Ajrakh studio

Ajrakh studio

Ajrakh studio

Ajrakh studio

Ajrakh studio

Ajrakh studio

Ajrakh   Ajrakh

Ajrakh studio

 

Ajrakh is traditionally worn by the pastoral Maldhari (meaning herdsman in English) community. Apart from pagdis and lungis, it is also used as bed covers and wedding costumes etc. Traditionally, the colours and motifs symbolise nature with symmetrical designs. Indigo blue (from the indigo leaves) and crimson red (from alizarin found in the roots of madder) are the two most predominate colours for ajrakh.

 

Ajrakh studio

Ajrakh studio

indigo dyeing

indigo  Ajrakh studio

 

Before visiting Ajrakhpur, I told Judy Frater about our itinerary, and she suggested that I pay a visit to the studio of my ajrakh instructor Khalid as he is also located within the village. With limited time, I dashed off from the Ajrakh studio and headed towards Khalid's studio (his big signage was useful), which turns out to be only 5 minutes away.

Although Khalid's studio is much smaller than the Ajrakh studio, there were still at least 5 employees (including his son) printing and dyeing during my visit. I also met a friendly young textiles student who is working with Khalid on her graduation pieces.

Khalid spent 10 years learning his printing skills from his father, and he only went to study at Somaiya Kala Vidya after his son had done a course there. The course helped him to break away from the traditions and explore new ideas and techniques. Since I learned the basics of ajrakh printing from Khalid at the workshop, I know how talented he is and I wanted to support him somehow. The result was a shopping spree at his studio/shop, where I bought a few scarves and shawls for myself and my family. One of them is a combination of ajrakh print and bandhani (done by his wife), which I particularly like. He also offered to customise the fringes/tassels for me, and the finished scarves were delivered to my hotel by the kind textiles student 2 days later. The prices of his scarves are not only reasonable, they are also unqiue and more contemporary. You can check out his instagram account @ashk_by_khalid to see more of his works.

 

khalid usman Khatri

khalid usman Khatri

khalid usman Khatri

khalid usman Khatri

khalid usman Khatri  khalid usman Khatri

khalid usman Khatri

Khalid Usman Khatri's studio

 

After we left Ajrakhpur, we headed to the nearby Living and learning design centre, a textiles and craft museum run by the Shrujan Trust that aims to preserve, revitalise and promote the craft heritage of Kutch. Upon arrival, I was very pleasantly surprised by the beautiful and Mexican/Pueblo Revival style contemporary architecture and lush gardens. Opened in 2016, the complex took about 5 years to build and comprises a museum with three galleries, an auditorium, a library, an outdoor cafe, a shop and three crafts studios for practitioners. Again, the architects behind this project was Indigo architects, whose chief architect Mausami had received her MA in architecture from University of New Mexico, hence both the Ajrakh studio and LLDC have a strong Mexican/Santa Fe influence.

 

LLDC, Living and Learning Design Centre

LLDC, Living and Learning Design Centre

LLDC, Living and Learning Design Centre

LLDC, Living and Learning Design Centre

LLDC, Living and Learning Design Centre

LLDC, Living and Learning Design Centre  LLDC, Living and Learning Design Centre

LLDC, Living and Learning Design Centre

LLDC, Living and Learning Design Centre  LLDC, Living and Learning Design Centre 

 

Strangely, the vast complex was very quiet during our visit and we hardly saw any other visitors. If this museum was situated in London or New York, it would be jam-packed with tourists. And I think this museum deserves to be visited by more tourists because of its excellent contents. You really need a few hours to go through the exhibits as they cover all the textiles styles, techniques and fashion from different tribes within Kutch; you can even find out how to tie a turban in different ways. If you want to learn more about Kutch textiles, then this place is a good starting point. Photography is forbidden inside the upper galleries, but it is allowed in the lower gallery where there are paintings and textiles on display.

 

LLDC, Living and Learning Design Centre

LLDC, Living and Learning Design Centre  LLDC, Living and Learning Design Centre

 

 


This post was posted in Architecture, Travel, Designers & artists, Design, Contemporary, Textiles, natural dyeing, indigo dyeing, India, Indian design, blockprinting, Kutch and was tagged with natural dyeing, indigo dyeing, India, Indian design, block printing, Kutch, Indian textiles, Bhuj, Gujarat, ajrakh, ajrakhpur, artisans, Living and Learning Design Centre, Kutch textiles

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