Woven Wonders of Varanasi, an exhibition hosted by the Bhau Daji Lad Museum in trying to revive the traditional weaves of Varanasi and supporting the weavers' community was held on Friday where master weavers from different pockets of Varanasi stepped out of their obscurity to find pride of place next to some of the country's top designers.
Imran Matin, Bharat Shah, Hafeez Ahmed are names unlikely to ring a bell but their intricate warp and wefts have often been the showstopper on fashion ramps. Ritu Kumar was one of 20 other designers including the likes of Rina Dhaka, Manish Malhotra, Anita Dongre, Nandita Mahtani, Neeta Lulla and others trying to weave fresh life into fabrics from the textile traditions of Varanasi.
Desperate times need desperate measures and Varanasi where business hasn't been easy for their shrinking community of weavers became designer and BJP treasurer Shaina NC's mandate. When she made her way to the ministry of textiles nine months ago with the idea of bridging contemporary designs and traditional craft with an exhibition showcasing Varanasi's textile tradition to a national and global audience, it was a proposal hard for the office to deny.
Given the boost it would also give to what tops the list of "key provisions" in textiles and garments under the Prime Minister's Make in India campaign -- "Allocation of INR 500 Million... to develop and promote handloom products and carry forward the rich tradition of the handlooms of Varanasi."
The exhibition with a social overtone brings together weavers, textile workers and eminent designers to showcase possibilities beyond the sari with the intergenerational craft of Benarasi weaving.
From three lakh weavers the community has dwindled to 40, 000 despite being lone guardians of the craft with excellent skills. If older weavers have turned construction workers or rickshaw pullers, the younger lot is moving on to call centre jobs and security services when they find weaving no longer profitable.
Ashok Dhawan of Benarasi Vastu Udyog Sangh said that business of handwoven Benarasi saris has deteriorated 2000 onwards when power-looms entered. With Modiji's interest in weavers' empowerment and the designers' recent engagement, their karigars are enthused.
Trips to Varanasi aren't new on a designer's itinerary but this year was special when many of them decided to quit the comfort of their studios and roast in the sun over multiple tours around weaver clusters. It was about a conscious effort to deepen involvement with creators of the design vocabulary they use, as they went around exchanging design ideas with karigars.
Every stage has been a revelation and the designers intend to tap into the traditions and blend it with their sensibilities. Rina Dhaka for example refuses to let any of her research go to waste. She promised to "reinvent and innovate" with Varanasi's designs and textiles in order to keep it from fading away.
Shaina N C, curator of the show said that after a month of display at the museum, Woven Wonders of Varanasi will moves to Delhi and then to London to reach international quarters through this Make in India initiative to inspire the world with their creations.
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