New Metaphors for Indian Fashion
Temple art was the trademark of traditional Indian clothes and accessories for centuries, setting them apart from western apparel with a distinct color, motif and design scheme. But the arrival of contemporary art has given Indian designers new metaphors for interpretations.
Art and fashion in India have spilled into each other in strange yet harmonious ways. Indian modern art has been unfurling its creativity on the traditional six-yard drape since the beginning of the 20th century in Bengal. At the Kala Bhavan in Santiniketan, artists paint landscapes and people of the Bengal countryside directly on to cotton drapes and traditional men’s shirt (kurta) with natural, fabric and acrylic colours.
Two decades ago a group of artists including Manjit Bawa, M.F. Husain and J. Swaminathan scripted new fusion when they painted contemporary prints on apparel in an one-off exposition in Mumbai.
Several sporadic attempts followed till a group of five artists put their heads together for a year to create the “Ehsaas Project,” an art-to-fashion transpose that has produced a collection of 20 saris, 12 bags, 25 ties and 25 stoles with digital fine art prints. A hand-painted range of accessories complements the clothes. The collection is a selection of abstract and figurative paintings by artists Alka Raghuvanshi, Niren Sen Gupta, Sanjoy Bhattacharya, Sridhar Iyer and Manisha Gawade that have been digitally printed on tussar silk from Bhagapur in Bihar and crepe textiles by a South Delhi ethnic and traditional clothier, Ekaya.
The range, curated by Alka Raghuvanshi, was displayed in a ramp walk by cultural personalities like dancers Swapna Sundari, Shobhana Narayaran, Sharon Lowen, Prathibha Prahlad and television presenter Suneet Tandon to display the wearability and classic nature of the collection, the curator said.
“This is my second attempt to translate art into wearable fashion,” Raghuvanshi said. He had earlier tried to transpose one of her solo shows into a collection with the help of designer Nidhi Jain.
The color code is striking. The saris are in vibrant shades of yellow, red, green and white with dark abstract and figurative silhouettes. A canvas of nudes painted with Salvador Dali’s expressionistic motifs by artist Sanjoy Bhattacharya on a black silk sari draws the viewer with its stunning detail of human anatomy.
“Fashion has always been part of art. But look at the couture we have now — that’s hardly the kind of thing people can connect to. What we know as fashion is not very arty, but very crafty. People like you and I can hardly wear the clothes designers make for models on the ramp...We should have a multi-disciplinary approach to art. It can be perceived in isolation,” Raghuvanshi said.
Swapna Sundari in a art sari from Ehsaas Project curated by artist Alka Raghuvanshi.
Her earliest collections of expensive art, she said, were “S.H. Raza scarves — printed with images of his European paintings” that she purchased in Paris. Says artist Manisha Gawade: “My works are in three series — Mindscapes, Constant Presence and Threads of life.” She paints abstract geometrical patterns in a basic color palette of black and white that prints in bold 3-D images that assimilate from the traditional middle-eastern attires of abaya, kandura and hijab, inspired from her 10 years of living in Dubai.
Art connoisseur and animal rights activist Maneka Gandh, who has been trying to “move art out of the conventional confines to make it more utilitarian, interactive, fashionable and engaging” created, “Fly Your Carpet to the Walls,” a collection of carpets with imprints of paintings by 25 artists including S.H. Raza and M.F. Hussain in 2010. It is an ongoing project that combines art with lifestyle accessories and fashion to support ethical treatment of animals.
“I love to wear my own art,” says artist Anjolie Ela Menon, who often designs necklaces with pendants etched with motifs of her figurative drawings. For Menon, it is “another expression of creative inspiration that puts itself into a more aesthetic use”.
Designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee, who manages an art foundation, says he draws his inspiration from the colourscapes of French impressionists like Monet and Henry Matisse in his clothes while leading sari maker Satya Paul has been combining contemporary and spiritual art with fashion in its “Pop Art” and “Art of the Tarot” series of clothes and sari drapes.
Revivalist designer Madhu Jain is celebrating her 25th year in the fashion industry with a new edition of her textile “Projeckt M.” It features Raja Ravi Verma’s paintings and the art of Kalamkari weaving from Andhra Pradesh. The project is a collaboration with actor-turned-textile activist Milind Soman.
Art for arts’ sake is passe. It’s time now to vote in favor of a more practical and human art.