Blog
Aesthetica Magazine: Interview with Curator Eiluned Edwards, Imprints of Culture 16 February 2016

Spray dyeing with pomegranate and turmeric - Dhamadka 2014

Ahead of the opening of our next exhibition, Imprints of Culture: Block Printed Textiles of India, Aesthetica magazine caught up with curator, Eiluned Edwards to find out more about the process and history behind block printing in this in-depth interview…

Aesthetica: The block prints produce delicate and exuberant patterns, could you explain the technique behind this?
Eiluned Edwards: The technique of block printing is highly adaptable so the variety of styles is numerous and used to reflect regional identity, religious and social status, and gender. As links between the craft, fashion and home wares industries have been established, new designs have been introduced and traditional patterns adapted to suit the tastes of urban consumers. The blocks, made of hard wood such as teak and sisam, are engraved with the design – complex patterns using several colours require multiple blocks, which are used in a specific sequence to build up the design. The block is the vehicle that carries the mordant and dye pastes to the cloth: the printer dips the block in the paste tray and then stamps it firmly on the cloth – there is a musicality to the process and you can hear a good printer by the steady percussion of his printing (the craft is a predominantly male preserve). Printing stages are interspersed with dyeing. Some dyes in use require the cloth to be boiled in order to fix the colour – madder, a natural dye that produces red is typical of this process – other dyes are used cold; indigo is a good example. Until the late 19th century all block printers and dyers worked with natural dyes – the classic Indian dyes are indigo and madder. Nowadays, the majority of production is with synthetic dyes, which are cheaper and easier to use although there are environmental issues with some categories of dyestuffs – for example, naphthol dyes, still widely used in India, are banned in Europe because of their toxicity.

A: How does this form of printmaking contribute to the cultural and social make up of India?
EE: Until quite recently, block printed textiles were key components of caste dress, reflecting regional affiliation, occupational and religious identity, social and even economic status. The block printers came under the patronage of the Mughal Empire (1526-1857) as well as the royal courts of princely India, but they served many other social groups, too. Thus they have helped to shape the visual identity of India and played an important role in its material culture – a fact recognised by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister after the country gained its independence in 1947. From the 1950s onward, Nehru’s government implemented a programme of craft revival in which block printing played an important role. Craft was seen as central to forging a national identity; it would also generate rural employment and revenue from exports. But the impact of block printing on global material culture should not be overlooked; painted and printed cottons were amongst the most important commodities exported from India from at least the medieval period until the 19th century. Chintz, considered an icon of ‘Britishness’, was actually introduced to the UK from India by the East India Company in the 17th century – a painted and printed cotton textile produced on the Coromandel Coast of South India, it transformed British (and European) fashions of the day. Similarly, the export of Indian block prints to East and Southeast Asia has had an enduring impact on the material culture of countries such as China, Japan, Thailand and Indonesia.

A: What are the fabrics typically used and fashioned for?
EE: Block prints have been produced for caste dress, courtly attire and for export – the artisans calibrated designs to suit the tastes of a highly diverse consumer base. Certain categories of block printed textiles have also had a ritual function – for example, mata ni pachedi (cloth of the mother goddess) still painted and printed by the Chitrakar community in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, is used by marginal groups such as Rabari nomads, and Chitrakars themselves in worship of the mother goddess, a heterodox expression of Hinduism.

Since the 1970s, there has been a growth in demand for block prints from the global fashion industry. They played a big part in shaping the ‘hippy chic’ aesthetic of the late 1960s and 1970s, and were prevalent in the boutiques of swinging London. More recently, block prints dyed with natural colours have become a feature of the global ‘slow clothes’ movement whose advocates have embraced their rich symbolism, eco-friendly production methods, and rootedness in specific local communities. Delhi-based designer Aneeth Arora, whose label Pero has established a global following for its hand-fashioned garments made from classic Indian textiles, has established an enduring relationship with block printers in Kachchh district, Gujarat. While much of her work has been at the level of couture, she has also designed a collection using ajrakh, a traditional block print worn by animal herders in Kachchh as caste dress, for Indian retail giant Westside, which flew off the racks in 2014. Another advocate of sustainable fashion, social entrepreneur Charlotte Kwon, runs Maiwa Handprints in Vancouver, Canada. A highly successful retail company, Maiwa has introduced Indian block prints to large parts of Canada and North America, an expanding market that supports hundreds of artisans in India.

A: Has the traditional technique allowed for much technical innovation, or has it remained largely unchanged?
EE: The technique is largely unchanged: the artisan still stamps the design on the cloth in the same way as his forebears did going back hundreds of years. There have been changes, however, to the dyes used. By the 1950s, synthetic dyes (naphthol, azo dyes, etc) had almost entirely replaced natural dyes; knowledge of a technology that dates back over 4,500 years in India was rapidly disappearing. The appeal of synthetic dyes lay in their ease of use, cheapness and vivid colours; in comparison, natural dyes are labour-intensive. But a few block printers became concerned that they were losing their traditions – a heritage that can be traced back to the late Harappan period (2500-1500 BCE) when South Asia’s earliest urban culture developed in the Indus Valley region. One such was Khatri Mohammad Siddik of Dhamadka village in Kachchh district, Gujarat, who resumed using natural dyes in the 1970s, and taught his sons techniques that went back at least nine generations in his family. They – Abdulrazzak, Ismail, and Abduljabbar Khatri – are now among India’s foremost block printers and dyers whose work not only reaches a global clientele but is also held in the collections of the V&A, the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Musee Guimet, Paris, the Textiles Museum, Washington D.C, and the Calico Museum, Ahmedabad.      

Imprints of Culture will be here at the Gallery from Friday 26 February – Thursday 24 March.

Image: © Eiluned Edwards, Spray dyeing with pomegranate and turmeric, Dhamadka, 2014.

Leave a Reply



>    Back to all articles
Featured news
Visiting us safely 14 September 2020

We are delighted to reopen to the public on Monday 17 May with Here, the Gold Ones meet by Reactor, and we have put several measures in place to make your visit safe.

These measures have been informed by Government and National Museum Directors Council guidance. They are constantly under review, subject to change and may vary slightly depending on Government guidance and the official roadmap out of lockdown. Please check back to this page prior to planning your visit. 
  
Planning your visit 

Groups no larger than six should visit the gallery at any one time, providing these groups are complying with government guidance on households and bubbles. Numbers inside the gallery will initially be limited to 8 at any single time. There is additional seating and waiting areas outside the gallery for anyone arriving before their scheduled time.

Do not visit if you’re feeling unwell, or have been in contact with someone who has coronavirus, and follow the NHS coronavirus guidelines.

We will be asking for contact details of all visitors on your arrival. We recommend that you also download the NHS COVID-19 app in advance of your visit.

When you arrive 

Entrance to the gallery is still via the main entrance of the Bonington Building and floor markers will assist with social distancing. Please ‘check-in’ to the main building on arrival via the NHS app, and sanitise your hands.

If you arrive before your alotted time, you will be required to wait outside where there are benches. The building will be quieter than usual as students’ access to the campus is more restricted than normal.

At the entrance to the gallery, you will be asked to show your Eventbrite ticket and provide your contact details to support NHS Test and Trace. We will keep your details for 21 days, and will only share them with NHS Test and Trace if asked in the event of a visitor or member of the team testing positive for coronavirus. The gallery invigilator will be on hand to assist if necessary.

Face masks or coverings must be worn upon entrance to the gallery. There are some free masks available within the building if you forget. If you are exempt from wearing a mask, then please notify the gallery assistant and you will be welcomed accordingly.

2m social distancing is required inside the gallery, as it is throughout the building and campus. Please follow signage and wayfinding measures to adhere to best routes throughout the building and gallery.

Contact areas in the gallery, such as seating, will be subject to cleaning throughout the day. An enhanced cleaning regime is in place across all University buildings.

Clear signage at the gallery entrance will outline the key measures we are adhering too. Please refer to these for guidance. A gallery assistant will also be on hand to help.

Our risk assessment that has been conducted under guidance from the government and Public Health England is available to be read here. The overarching risk assessment for the wider campuses can be read here.

We have been awarded with a certificate for Visit England’s ‘We’re Good to Go’ scheme which can be read here.

50 Years of Curating and Creating Contemporary Art 12 August 2019

Bonington Gallery has been a significant part of the cultural landscape of Nottingham for half a century. Its diverse and ambitious artistic programme has consistently presented the forefront of creative practice and through this has gained a national reputation.

The gallery has showcased the very best in visual and performing arts from across the world – so join us, as we plan to make the next 50 years just as memorable.

Read more in our latest blog post.

The Community: Live in Nottingham featured on Notts TV 25 March 2019

Last week, Notts TV’s Charlotte Swindells popped down to the gallery to check out our latest exhibition, catching up with curator Tom Godfrey to find out more about the project.

Watch the video at the link below (segment starts at 27:40):

https://nottstv.com/programme/ey-up-notts-tuesday-19th-march/

Chloé Maratta - ARTnews feature 14 January 2019

This April we’re excited to be presenting a two person exhibition between artist, musician and designer Chloé Maratta and artist & musician Joanne Robertson. The exhibition will also involve artefacts from NTU’s School of Art & Design’s high-street fashion archive, FashionMap. Chloé features in a recent ARTnews article that profiles several of the ‘leading lights’ within LA’s art/fashion/music crossover scene:

Latest from twitter
css.php