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On the other end of the gallery is a black handwoven Tanchoi Sari, designed by Jadunath Suparkar and developed by Haji Moinuddin Girast in Varanasi—the colour now a regular bestseller—made a radical statement in its time, and proved rather controversial in the 1980s when it was first created. And then there’s a hand-embroidered silk organza and chikankari piece from Sanjay Garg’s “Cloud People” collection, last seen at the Royal Opera House in Mumbai, where the designer showcased at an offsite presentation during the Lakmé Fashion Week. But placed on a pedestal in a gallery, the garment is immediately contextualised into the living, still evolving tradition it belongs to. Part of a larger exhibit that is split into five galleries, each space is themed to a specific stage, mapping the evolution of textiles and craft—this isn’t some exhaustive pedantic archive, neither does it display the polyglot pluralities of every textile in the country. New Traditions: Influences & Inspirations in Indian Textiles, 1947-2017 is curated by Mayank Mansingh Kaul, who tells a story that reads more like a love letter to the various progressive movements within handmade textiles in post-independent India. He explains, “The dialogues between fashion, handcraft and textiles are important because they interact with each other more than we often assume—whether this is in terms of aesthetic influences or innovation in materials used.” The first gallery covers the early days of khadi, complete with its political undertones and nationalism. This is followed by responses to International Modernism—between the 1960s and ’90s, murmurs of Raza and Rothko tumble into handwoven abstraction by designers Abraham & Thakore and Nelly Sethna. The next showcases experiments in Indian textiles in recent years, a conceptual vision-board where bottle cap saris and sculptural works inform new conversations, creating stunning textile installations. But it’s the final gallery where fashion’s flirtation with Indian textiles is finally consummated—a silver shirtdress by Rajesh Pratap Singh, saris by Akaaro by Gaurav Jai Gupta and Anavila, and Rahul Mishra’s hexagon dress that combines felted wool, organza and PU leather with embroideries; each a design intervention into heritage crafts and textiles. The influences here are disparate, firmly part of the digital age, but through the cautious gaze of conscious consumption—making tradition wearable, and updated to suit the commercial and aesthetic tides of our time. The beauty of exhibitions like this are the conversations they generate—“Textiles need to be seen, felt and experienced at close hand.
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