Tent: A Space for the Ceremony of Close Readings, 2018
made in collaboration with Mukesh Bhai Prajapati and Salemamad Khatri
Mill-made cotton, natural dyes, metal frame, handmade khadi paper lantern, tassels, and inclusion of essay "Do Hands Have a Chance?" by KG Subramanyan
Installation view at Matters of Hand: Design, Craft, and Technique, curated by Rashmi Varma, Serendipity Arts Festival, Panjim, Goa
Photograph by Philippe Calais
“Ornament does not heighten my joy in life or the joy in life of any cultivated person.” Adolf Loos, Ornament and Crime, 1908
My drawing practice includes making paper from khadi or cotton cloth, a cloth with a materiality of embedded political resistance. In tracing a through-line relationship of khadi to Ahmedabad, Gujarat – (once known as the Manchester of India and home to Gandhi’s Ashram), I was drawn to the iconic Mill Owners’ Association Building by architect Le Corbusier and site architect Balkrishna Doshi, built in the mid-1950s.
I render Le Corbusier’s alien concrete invasion in India into a piece of soft architecture with a decorative, endlessly repeating pattern. The graphic nature of the façade, the conference room, and a feature from the roof of the original building are translated into three block print designs. Inside the tent hangs a handmade paper light fixture from mulched khadi cotton with a cut- out that includes the same façade design. As the building has no “hand” present, the hand is re-introduced through the lamp, the carved wood blocks by Mukesh P. Prajapati in Petaphur, and with the process of block-printing and dyeing by artisan-designer Salemamad D. Khatri of Ajrakhpur, Kutch, Gujarat. The artisans are connected in tracing their craft to a long ancestral lineage of block-printing, which involves a labour intensive process of scouring, mordanting, printing, lime resist printing, and dyeing the cloth multiple times in order to achieve a multi-layered repeat pattern. The structure was inspired by spaces of celebration like a shamiana, military tents from the Ottoman Empire which were heavily ornamental and evoked power through their presence, and by the conference room itself with its sweeping ceilings like the interior of a tent.
What can occur when skills gained from crafts, usage of ornamentation, and ideals of modernism are fused together in surface and structure? How does one collaborate with generations of artisanal knowledge in India and ideas of existing design that engage the hand, but take notions of “design” and “craft” into new directions? "Tent: A Space for the Ceremony of Close Readings" is a proposition.