Imprints of Culture: Block Printed Textiles of India
Unit(s) of assessment: Art and Design: History, Practice and Theory
School: School of Art & Design
Languishing since the 19th Century, block-printed textiles in India were targeted for development in the cultural renaissance and economic regeneration that followed Independence in 1947. Development was initiated by national agencies including the All India Handicrafts Board (founded 1952), the National Crafts Museum (1956), the National Institute of Design (1961) and state-level craft organisations (1960s onward); further interventions were led by non-governmental organisations (NGOs, 1970s onward).
Addressing the Challenge
These strategies have overlapped with the commercial design initiatives of entrepreneurs. This project explores how cultural heritage has been managed in tandem with economic development through research with block-printers, national / state-level agencies, NGOs, museums, and entrepreneurs.
Dr Eiluned Edwards is an Associate Professor in Global Cultures of Textiles and Dress. She supervises M.Phil and PhD candidates and contributes to the MA programmes;
- Textile Design Innovation
- Culture, Style and Fashion
- Fashion Management, Marketing and Communication
- and BA (Hons) Decorative Arts.
She also works with institutions in South Asia in the Higher Education sector as well as the NGO (non-governmental organisation) sector and is currently collaborating with;
- The National College of Arts
- Lahore and Rawalpindi, Pakistan
- The Craft Revival Trust, New Delhi
- The Ajrakh Printers Association in Kachchh.
Making a Difference
Dr Eiluned Edwards is uniquely placed to develop this project having worked closely with clusters of artisans from the Khatri and Chippa communities of hereditary printers and dyers in western India since 1991. This experience has endowed her with a nuanced understanding of the issues confronted by traditional craftspeople in contemporary India, and first-hand knowledge of the strategies implemented by the agencies, individuals and institutions with whom they work.
- Abduljabbar M. Khatri (National Craft Awardee for Ajrakh and Block Printing), Dhamadka village, Kachchh, Gujarat, India.
- Ritu Sethi, Chairperson Craft Revival Trust, New Delhi
- Rosemary Crill, Asia Department, V&A Museum, London
- Aneeth Arora (fashion and textile designer) at Péro, New Delhi
- Central Museum, Jaipur, Rajasthan
- Charllotte Kwon, Director, Maiwa Hand Prints, Vancouver BC, Canada
The research generated by this project is relevant to the development sector and the creative industries. It has already generated interest at the UNDP and the British Council, New Delhi with a project proposed to target the enhancement of design skills among artisans by the former and an exhibition by the latter. The project illuminates the trajectory of block printed textiles from village level production to markets in India and overseas, and captures artisans’ ongoing problems with labour, water and power as well as product development and access to viable markets. It has also generated data about interventions by entrepreneurs, state agencies and NGOs, and examines the role of craft as an economic driver in rural areas, especially, while also exploring its meanings and significance as an aspect of cultural heritage.
The collection of data (oral history, photographs and video, archival materials from several states) has been accompanied by collection of examples of contemporary block printed textiles, printing blocks, and dyestuffs, thus the research is ripe for dissemination through collaboration with museums, galleries and arts organisations on exhibitions and is supported by the curatorial experience of lead researcher, Dr Eiluned Edwards.
Still in the first year of research, the following publications and an exhibition will be delivered as the Imprints project progresses:
Monograph currently under development:
- Imprints of Culture: Block Printed Textiles of India. To be published by Niyogi Books, New Delhi in 2015
Articles under development for:
- Textile History
- Fashion Practice
Exhibition planned for 2016 at Bonington Gallery, NTU:
- Imprints of Culture: Block Printed Textiles of India
The following publications draw on earlier research with block printers and dyers that has led into the ‘Imprints’ project:
- Textiles and Dress of Gujarat (2011), London and Ahmedabad: V&A Publishing in association with Mapin Publishing. Chapter 4, ‘Dyed, printed and textiles’ outlines block printing in Gujarat, pp.112-153.
Article / chapter in a book:
- ‘Blueprint for sustainability: the evolution of traditional Indian textiles from local consumption to the global market’, in: Black, S. (ed)(2012), The Sustainable Fashion Handbook, London: Thames and Hudson.
- ‘The role of veilcloths among the Rabaris of Kutch, Gujarat, western India’, Costume, 43 (2009), pp.19-37.
- ‘Cloth and community: the local trade in resist-dyed and block-printed textiles in Kachchh district, Gujarat’, in Textile History, 38, 2 (2007), pp 179-197.
- ‘Patterns of Adapation Among Pastoral Nomads in Gujarat’. South Asian Studies, vol. 21 (2005), pp 53-68.
- ‘Contemporary production and transmission of resist-dyed and block-printed textiles in Kachchh district, Gujarat’. Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture, vol. 3, issue 2 (2005), pp 166-189.
- ‘Pattern, people and place: printed and dyed textiles of Kachchh, Gujarat’, in Branfoot, C. (ed)(2014), Traditional Arts of South Asia: Past Practice, Living Traditions. London: Saffron Press.
- Co-authored with Dr Ismail Mohammad Khatri:‘The work of the Khatris of Kachchh: ajrakh and block-printed textiles’, in Branfoot, C. (ed)(2014), Traditional Arts of South Asia: Past Practice, Living Traditions. London: Saffron Press.
The ‘Imprints of Culture’ project is supported by a the full range of facilities available at NTU, including a well-resourced library, extensive workshop space (to be used for the planned ‘Master Class’ to be led by block printer Abduljabbar Khatri in 2016), and at the City Campus, Bonington Gallery (which will host the Imprints exhibition proposed for 2016).
‘Imprints’ is led by Dr Edwards whose close working relations with the V&A and several regional museums (Whitworth Art Gallery and Leicester Museums) offers prospective collaborators access to an extensive network of India/South Asia-related resources. Formerly a Senior Research Fellow at the V&A, she continues to teach on the V&A Arts of Asia course as well as the V&A/RCA MA Asian Design History and has a good working knowledge of the Museum’s vast holdings of Indian textiles and dress, and other artefacts. The ‘Imprints’ project has also nurtured international links with the Central Museum at Jaipur, Rajasthan and TAPI Collection at Surat, Gujarat in India.
The project benefits broadly from NTU’s status as one of the leading centres of design education in the UK. NTU’s courses enjoy an international reputation for quality – it attracts many overseas students - and the consequent employability of its graduates and postgraduates is sustained by excellent links to the global creative industries. Nottingham itself has a substantial textiles / fashion heritage (see the Lace and Heritage Research Group pages on the website) and is the cultural centre of the East Midlands, proving a stimulating and culturally diverse environment in which to study and work.