By Dr. Alka Raghuvanshi
Getting nostalgic about the art of block printing, Dr. Alka Raghuvanshi uses technological windfall to elicit renewed respect for this almost-forgotten traditional craft.
It all came back to me, when I saw this table-top created from wooden blocks that were earlier used for printing on cloth. I decided to look for operational block printing units retracing my steps to Sanganer in Jaipur, known for making handmade paper and block printing textiles. I found that most units had switched to screen printing instead; replacing the distinct signature effect of the block with a mass-produced stance. Ditto with other block printing textile centres from Barmer in Rajasthan to Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Sungadi in Tamil Nadu.
My mother had once mentioned that Chipiwada in Chandni Chowk was the place where chipas or printers on cloth could be found. In earlier times these block printers would do kachha printing that could be washed off and the cloth reused; as cloth was a dear commodity in those days. In 1984, I had had the opportunity to meet a chipa and procured from him a whole lot of wooden blocks, for which he reluctantly accepted a mere hundred rupees!
|Row of blocks|
The meeting is still vivid: Lined up in open shelves were rows of iron tubs with piles of wooden blocks. I had imagined all those tables laden with cloth and the peculiar sound the blocks would make as the chipas dipped them in colour and pressed them hard on the cloth. There was a plethora of blocks with many colours called datta and other technical names.
|Block printing stamp|
Back home, I had tried hard to print cloth with these blocks using all kinds of inks but nothing actually worked! But they worked beautifully on paper with poster colours! Years of New Year greetings were created from these blocks! But the magic of the blocks stayed as part of my aesthetic experience. Then that table-top recently triggered off a deep desire to once again experience the joy of block-printed textiles.
|Artist Manisha Gawade wearing a Treyi work|
I decided to create paintings from these blocks and later use them to create sarees and dupattas for myself. Slowly individualistic requests from friends increased my repertoire, when gallerist Mahesh Bansal asked me to create a whole exhibition of wearable art, which he is now presenting as Treyi.
|Hindustani vocalist Sawani Mudgal wearing a Treyi work|
Treyi means intellect and I feel that aesthetics is a combination of head and heart both. Given my propensity for pure fabric, I have used Kanjeevaram silk in jewel and shot colours, where the warp and weft is of different hues. The blocks using pigment colours are used differently in each work as it is individually created and has a distinct personality. Many of the blocks have calligraphic writing in Hindi and Sanskrit to highlight the importance of the written word.
|Preparing a wooden block|
Neither my mother nor my uncle, who had accompanied me on the Chipiwada escapade are alive to see these works but wherever they are, I am sure they are smiling at my perseverance for once! It is like life coming a full circle.
Dr. Alka Raghuvanshi is an artist, curator and writer. She is among the few authorities on the arts, who traverses folk and classical arts, performing and plastic arts, crafts and aesthetics with ease and is known for her crusading spirit for the arts.