Our series on textile stalwarts, combined into one long read!

Home » Our series on textile stalwarts, combined into one long read!
Shelly Jyoti; Imagined Communities; 20X6 feet; Ajrakh printing and dyeing on khadi fabric; 2019

Chandrashekhar Bheda

Chandrashekhar Bheda studied textile design (Dyeing and Printing) at Sir JJ School of Art. Next, he completed his post graduation from the National Institute of Design Ahmedabad in Industrial Design with a specialization in Textiles in 1988. Abir Pothi reports how such a large potential stored in textile materials has kept him excited throughout his professional life and how textile has been his main medium of expression, be it during practicing as a designer or as a fiber artist. 

Myriad materials, many possibilities

Knowledge Murals, depicting wind energy, One Earth Campus, Suzlon, Pune 13’x52′ created with 35 artisans, Bhagalpur, raw silk and cotton with appliques embroideries Kashmir chain stitch

With his work largely conceptual and client’s brief or need-driven, Chandrashekhar Bheda enjoys working with both traditional and technologically driven fabrics. He says that textiles offer possibilities of materials with features such as transparency, translucency, opacity, textural range, layering, sculpting, knotting, cut and stitch, surface manipulations and ornamentations, 3D structuring, constructing, linear character, pliability, and technological advantages, to name a few. Depending on the need of an idea or merit of utility in creating an expression, he chooses craft techniques and fabrics. The brief is either provided by clients, collaborators, or he conceptualizes it to suit the context. Sometimes, he studies and understands the technique first and then creates an idea around it. Bheda also enjoys mixing craft techniques, materials and genres to create a new language.

What are textile murals?

The installation process of the Knowledge Murals

Talking about textile murals, he explains: “A mural is any piece of artwork painted or applied directly on a wall, ceiling or other permanent surfaces. Instead of directly treating the wall, one creates expression with textile materials and mounts it on the wall to become a textile mural! Tapestry is a common term used for any textile created either for wall, floor, ceiling or spatial needs, either woven, embroidered or appliqued.” If one looks at Indian traditional textiles used in histories as wall décor or murals, there are many examples of royalties using specially crafted textiles to décor their courts and palaces for public interactions and personal spaces. They also used textile murals in tents thematically whenever travelling or on hunting tours, he says.

Tapping into a rich heritage 

Kalamkari traditional artisan from Srikalahasti

“We in India are so blessed with a heritage of arts and crafts and our country has the richest handcraft and hand-weaving traditions with artisanal skills to match with makes a great opportunity to work with. We have weaving traditions of finest silk brocades, delicate Pashminas and handspun handwoven cottons, a large variety of durry making as well as Coir fiber amongst coarser types, fiber woven in Kerala. These offer a great variety of materials, techniques, processes, visual vocabularies and narrative to combine with,” he says. Collaborating with people armed with great skills ensures a very large range of ideas and opportunities to explore and Bheda believes that so vast is the scope of the medium that he has just scratched the surface.

Not a recent phenomenon


Waseem on ari work at Spider Design

He does not believe that textile murals are a new thing on the market and explains how they have been made in India by traditional craftsmen practicing Matani Pachedis, (Mata No chandarvo), Nathdwara Pichwais (Backdrops), Kalamkari of Shrikalahasti, traditionally wall art form on textiles created with natural dyes and drawings, Block prints of Rajasthan, Thangka paintings for Buddhist monasteries and also brocaded or made as carpets to name a few! Famed French Architect Le Corbusier used large size colorful durries as murals in Chandigarh in his architectural spaces. Talking about the market response in contemporary times, Bheda shares, “In India textile murals of contemporary narrative are still new; however I have managed to have a good response to my textile mixed media works being used for institutional spaces. Often when architects and interior designers see what I do with textile they do get surprised and feel the potential of using these in their spaces too.”

A fascinating breadth of work


Crystal Aqua at Cairn India

Talking about some of the textile murals that he has designed and the concepts behind them, Bheda says that often the themes for the murals are provided by brand enhancement agencies associated with clients or are part of the brief either created by them or a result of his understanding of the spaces for which the mural is intended.With the craftsmen team at my studio Spider Design, I have created murals for Suzlon Excellent Academy with the abstract depiction of knowledge gaining process through colours and patterns inspired from five elements. The Head Office of Cairn India Ltd commissioned me to create 16 murals for their corridors, cafeteria, training hall and CEO floor based on the themes such as Aqua Crystal, Fossils and Deep Sea Life,” Another satisfying project was for Mahindra Group’s head office. “I made a mural conceptualized in collaboration with NID faculty and students through a course of space design I took. This mural was detailed out and produced at my studio,” Bheda shares. For the Suhana Office of Pravin Masalewale, he designed and created a Ras-Rang tapestry depicting the culture of food-making that is growing and experiencing while consuming.

Deep Sea Life, Cafe Submarine Cairn India

A lot of experimentation goes into making one large piece. Craftsmen play skilled collaborators’ role in the process. However, making one piece often has many types of skills of craftsmen hence they play their part in sequence and at the end when he puts the mural together as an amalgamation then only one can see and feel the outcome. “My ideation and execution plan guides them in production. There is always an effort to modify their skills to suit the execution of an idea visualized,” Bheda says.

Women artisans of Gramin Vikas Chetana Sansthan Barmer doing applique for Cairn India’s Deep Sea Life themed murals

Bheda talks about some of the projects that extended opportunities to create some path-breaking work in collaboration with traditional as well as contemporary craftsmen from different parts of India. “My first series of large-scale murals got rolled out and installed in 2009 at Suzlon Excellence Academy Pune. The brand development team invited me to create murals for their multipurpose expandable hall with one large wall covering 700 square feet of space and four more adding another 700 sq feet as space dividers. Depicting abstraction of knowledge gaining process, I visualized the sequences using and decoding their SEA’s nomenclature into fluid tessellation based on triangular grid and merging of colors, textures and patterns inspired from five elements for five murals themed with Wind, Fire, Water, Earth and Ether with a contemporary treatment,” he shares. To produce these murals, Bheda had five groups of craftspeople with different sets of skills such as dyers, hand embroiderers, machine embroiderers, applique craft women, chain-stitch embroiderers of Kashmir and weavers! Over the period of six months, the pieces were made and installed. Applique and embroiderers had to be trained first to work on a large piece as they had to sit on the textile pieces and work on it.


Fossils, Training Hall Cairn India

With Cairn India Limited for their then-new office in Gurgaon, Bheda designed and produced 16 pieces in themes such as aqua crystal, deep-sea life and fossils which were the themes for the ambience of different floors. “I used shibori, tie-dyes, screen printing, embroidery, Barmer applique and shaded dyeing with handloom textural fabrics and collaborated with women artisans of Gramin Chetna Vikas Sansthan of Barmer to put together one series and rest were made in Delhi with local skills available around and in Delhi. The mural which I designed and produced on the concept developed in collaboration with the students and faculty team of NID Ahmadabad for Mahindra Groups head office board room was equally exciting as colorful tire marks emerging from each other telling an abstract story of success of the Mahindra brand was created!”


Flying Rug

For the show Fracture: Indian Textiles New Conversations, supported by Devi Art Foundation, Bheda created a Flying Rug, with a novel weave where warp and weft do not cross at 90 degrees defying the established norm of weaving fabric, thus the resultant structure is constantly changing in density. “I created an entirely novel curvilinear loom to help me weave this durry, a takeoff from the Panja weaving technique. The outcome was an eye-popping textile structure suspended from the top to give it a flying feel. I am continuing to work further on the idea of spatially curved textiles,” he shares with enthusiasm.

Market conditions for textile murals


Mahindra head office – boardroom tapestry

As we wonder what is the market that buys this art and how are the market conditions, Bheda answers by throwing light on the market share of textile art in the visual arts space.Textile arts have been part of art space in the western world for many decades; however in India it is still in the beginning. This exciting medium offers the largest platter of possibilities yet still to be discovered by the art world here hence as far as market share is concerned it is negligible,” he says. “India understands textiles largely as traditional and community crafts rather than individual artists’ signatures. However, fashion designers have been creating wearable arts as ceremonial wear. Irrespective of the number of curated shows slowly growing in India, individual fiber artists are still not sufficiently visible in the country. However, once buyers start seeing the potential, surely they will start responding positively! My present reach is largely by collaborating with architects and interior designers as they are the influencers for the spaces they work with.”

Versatility of use

Ras Rang Tapestry, Suhana- Pravin Maslewale; screen print, tie-dye, shibori, applique, and embroidery on silks and velvets

The scope of exploratory application of textures, fluidity and a big range of physical properties of materials, large range of craft and ornamentation techniques, technological advantages are immense. From linear to two and three-dimensional and adding fourth as a conceptual dimension is exciting and that offers unending possibilities, Bheda shares. “Most important utility of textile murals is enhancing the acoustic quality of spaces, hence a great wall solution for theaters, cafeterias, institutional spaces and residential interiors. And while improving acoustic quality, if you can tell a visual story, value offered multiplies as experiential engagement of people using spaces is increased!”

Melting patterns through the eye of the needle

Pranati Panda

Pranati Panda’s first textile experience was as a child learning to knit and sew from her mother. She has always had a need to do something with her hands, something tactile, and working with textile and stitching is a process of mark-making of the progression of time, she believes. “Hand-stitching is a time-based medium and each stitched line is deliberate and is a line of conversation between my hand and my brain,” she says. Gauri Gharpure explores her mixed media artworks that make intricate use of textile elements   

Pranati Panda

Inspired by the realm of nature, Pranati Panda’s techniques include a combination of drawing, collage, and embroidery on paper and fabric. “My works make me think and allow me to meditate. Each dot and line is worked through my thoughts. I realized my hand stitching brings calmness to my life each time I stitch. It is all about fertility, growth, and the cycles of life,” she says. “Every work is somehow connected. Basically, my work is all about the invisible relation between humans and nature. It could be plants, it could be trees, insects, flowers… You just name it. But, in our daily lives, we do not see so many things but still, they exist. So I try to explore those things through my artworks,” Pranati shares.

Pranati says her work is raw and experimental and therein lies the beauty of it. “Everything I do is a completely new process and I do not know what will come next. I go like a river, slow and steady. I don’t think too much. That spontaneity is always there in my work and I enjoy that.” Her work portrays her existence. “Each dot or line I draw or I stitch are pieces of myself in various phases of my life,” shares Pranati Panda who makes intricate textile murals by incorporating myriad techniques. “It is about the deep connection between me and the passing time. How deeply I am witnessing each moment of my life, and the relation between the human and the nature. How powerful it is and how beautiful it is!” She plays with different materials, techniques, patterns, and textures. “I use rice paper, glue, ink, water colour, seeds, beads, a combination of hand-stitched and machine-stitched embroidery on rice paper, cotton fabric, dissolving fabric and mosquito net on embroidery hoops.” she shares. 

The labor-intensive and meditative aspect of embroidery, she says, makes it possible for her to stay engrossed in her work and ensoul it more and more. “I believe threads are like human relations; they can be cut, intertwined and tangled.” Talking about her process, she elaborates: “I do not use the fabric as it is. I completely deconstruct it and reconstruct it and create many layers. You can never see the direct fabric, either I use hand stitch or machine embroidery and then transfer it to the paper,” Pranati shares. She collaborates with those who help her in the housework and has trained them because she believes that working with fabric or thread is a very feminine act. “Because if you go back to history and see in villages, women, after they finish their housework, they sit together and chat and do something – sewing, knitting… Something to do with thread. It is a way of socializing.” 

For her last solo show, Speaking Threads, in 2019, she put on display 84 artworks and two large sculptures. She used an iron net to sew on for the sculptures Sunrise I and Sunrise II. Time Piece, a series of 35 works made for the solo show, depict time and what Pranati has gone through physically, mentally, and emotionally over the past 15 years. She takes a lot of references from neuroscientists and in particular, her inspiration comes from the works of Nobel-winning neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal whose arboreal representations of neurons appeal to her greatly. She has taken references from his work for the Brain series in which the plexus of nerves not only represents the brain but also looks similar to an upright banyan tree. Talking more about the Shades of Sunrise series, Pranati shares: “The moment you see the sunrise your energy goes up. Every morning is different, thoughts are different, you are different!,” The work is on the lines of transformative influences that nature brings upon us, simply by acknowledging and enjoying its presence. 

“I feel good and very happy with the response I have been getting for the last couple of years. It is 15 years of work behind the scenes. I have been working for 15-20 years, nobody knew that but today if I gain something it is not today just about today, it is 20 years of hard work. The gallery that represents me, Vadehra Art Gallery, is very happy. I am also getting offers from outside India. I cannot say this is exclusively textile work, but yes, textile is a big part of my mixed media process,” she talks about the success of Speaking Threads.  When asked about her advice to emerging artists, she simply says, “Work, work, and work!” She shares that it is important to stay connected because work has tremendous energy. “The moment we see or touch an artwork in progress, it tells you what exactly to do, how to proceed. For me, it is like an act of meditation. Sitting with your work is out of the world. Work will amaze you in your life, and will give you things that you never expect. That is a very precious thing that art gives to the artist. Artists never create artwork, I believe artworks create artists,” she signs off. 

Rajen Chaudhari

Even in his eighties, in the last few years before the pandemic struck, Rajen Chaudhari — known by the simple moniker of Rajen through most of his artistic life — was enthusiastically weaving in his workshop, tucked away near Raipur Darwaja in the heart of Ahmedabad.
His hands thrummed with energy and belied his age as they flew through the air, carefully invigilating the coming together of warp and weft to translate into, quite often, paintings of his very own artistry, wrought into fabric. For decades, Rajen had been a powerhouse for preserving the dwindled art of hand spinning and hand weaving, keeping it alive and vibrant with his sheer will and effortlessly natural skill. Living in Gujarat, he had become an epicenter of sorts for carrying on a well-beloved piece of Gandhian heritage that had transformed the Indian Freedom Struggle — and not just preserving it, but also mastering and reinventing the form, pushing its boundaries even as he acknowledged its heritage.
Befittingly, yet another constant as he worked was a sweet, gentle and infectious smile always — an indicator like no other that this artist truly loved what he did, as he had professed innumerable times over the years.
He had a long and prolific stint pursuing this artistic love, for over 70 years. But, leaving behind such a rich tapestry of legacy and learning, Rajen passed away earlier this year, on March 16, 2021, at the age of 90.
Born on February 24, 1931, Rajen had narrated in various interviews that his creative leanings manifested themselves quite early on. He was born to a well-to-do farming family in his village and always enjoyed drawing and painting. As a child, Rajen happened to attend the Gurukul Kangri at the crest of the struggle for Indian Independence, circa 1942-43. In the land of Mahatma Gandhi, at the core of the national movement, students here would spin yarn for over 40 minutes every day, embracing a craft Rajen said they came to enjoy very much. This, one could speculate, was where his ardour for the activity began. Clearly, he exhibited enough talent for a relative to recommend that he apply to the prestigious Sir JJ School of Art in Mumbai — and get in he did.

Studying fine arts here for five years, Rajen also managed to pack in a year of painting wall murals. When he graduated, his brother handed him a letter citing an exciting opportunity for the young man to become a gazetted officer for the Uttar Pradesh state government, as a textile designer in the Hill Wool Scheme. Soon, Rajen was off to Almora (now in Uttarakhand), where he spent six years, redirecting his journey into the world of textile art, before he left to find bigger adventures.

In his entire burgeoning phase of coming into his artistic own, Rajen also spent time at the Indian Institute of Handloom Technology in Banaras, studying under the expert aegis of AK Das; he also spent time as a sanyasi with Osho Rajneesh, who fondly dubbed him ‘Anadee Anand’. Earlier, Rajen had spent time under the roof of Bhagini Nivedita, a phase during which he drew multitude of stunning nudes, which he chuckled in a past interview rather took several visitors aback when they visited the premises.

Later, during the course of his teaching stint at the National Institute of Design (NID), Rajen travelled abroad to London, Finland and Sweden, after which he came back and got married. He held many exhibitions across country and saw his artworks picked up by illustrious collectors. Some of his tapestries drape walls in European establishments even today — essentially, he once admitted, he spent some 25 years of preparation exploring art and handloom craft before plunging wholeheartedly into his weaving practice in 1970, at a studio that his father-in-law helped him set up in Ahmedabad, dubbed Weave Lab. Here, he decided to merge his passion for painting with the skill of weaving, and with a team of 25 weavers, would weave his paintings into carpets, dhurries and tapestries. Moreover, he also continued to spread his masterful knowledge wholeheartedly, teaching generations of students at the CEPT University for close to three decades.

Rajen had once mused to an interviewer that no single weaver’s human hand could take on the might of the mills, which spin thousands of yarns a day. And yet, he stood uniquely as a force to be reckoned with as mechanization swept the world — not just dedicating his life to the weaver’s loom, but also elevating this custom to a movement in art.
Upholding the principles of self-sufficiency, Rajen would spin his own yarn and create his own dyes. He practiced traditional methods and effortlessly preserved a disappearing textile heritage, and believed that if a culture has to survive, its traditional art must be encouraged.
And yet, with tradition, Rajen’s enthusiasm to find novelty never diminished. He wove leather carpets and ribbon carpets; he wove feathers into his handlooms and even chips of brick tile (“My loom broke twice, but I finished it,” he had once shared in an interview). He even created a massive 60×30 feet tapestry for the Tagore Hall in Ahmedabad.

Rajen’s textile art is vivid and redolent of earthiness. Much of it is rooted in the hues and patterns of Indian folk art, with simple lines and motifs or nature as well as religious iconography. The artist within him was always bubbling over with a smile, as he also dabbled in others arts, like playing the harmonium and singing classical songs with sure and steady, lilting musicality.
“I could make 20 paintings in a day,” the artist had insisted, even as he would create at least six or seven rapidly, and then translate them into his fabrics.
Well-known Indian architect Nari Gandhi, respected for his highly innovative works in organic architecture, is believed to have once said of Rajen: “In his weaving one sees sound structure, correct grammar, innovative technique and humility, everywhere…”

Another stalwart in the world of art, Lotika Varadarajan — historian, teacher and international textile authority — had told The India Magazine, “Deep down he knows that all is maya, an illusion, and he wonders when he will one day enter the central core of his own creation and completely lose himself within it.”
Poignantly, Rajen had professed: “Art is a journey of which you don’t know the end. But my process is for me, not others. I do my work because I love doing it.”
After his passing in March this year, Rajen is survived by his wife Darshini, daughter Malavi (fondly called Fakira by her father) and son Poorav.

Today, Malavi still continues his weaving at the workshop near Raipur Gate, managing the projects he has left behind. Speaking to Abir Pothi about her father’s legacy and contribution, Malavi shared, “What he did was take the skill of weaving, whether you call it an art or craft, and explore the medium in ways not done so much. As a painter and having evolved as a creative person in general, he played around with his art, and followed his heart. He did not look at commercial logistics and created art for the sake of creating, not to sell it. It was always an artistic approach, rather than a commercial one, which gave him the freedom to experiment.
The dhurries he weaved were like nothing anyone else does. For instance, there are pieces with three layers — a design on the top and backside, and a third layer of yarn floating in the middle as well.
He has also created much work in fabrics, many years ago, including furnishings for large hotels, where he would make for them the entire set of table cloths, carpets, napkins, curtains… all if it. There are thousands of his fabric samples here, and they are all very technically complex — something a textile student would find fascinating. From the colour that goes into it to the weaving technique, it is all very masterful.
Even the way he made his tapestries was unique — nowadays, translating paintings into tapestries has become a fad, but people are just use the knotting technique that is used for carpets to do this, which does not do justice to the original artwor. His weaves were unique.
In terms of his contribution, his weaving techniques, which he has mastered, evolved beyond the known, pushed boundaries, evolved and reinvented them. His detailing goes the closest to a graphic source than any other, with a much better resolution. All in all, his weaving grammar was very thorough.
Innumerable people trained under him, for varying durations — and they all took away little pieces of his legacy.”

(You can reach the Weave Lab studio at rajentextiles@gmail.com.)

Shelly Jyoti

 As part of a series on textile murals, Abir Pothi conducted an email interview with acclaimed artist Shelly Jyoti and gained many insights into the world of textile art as well as her practice. Below are the in-depth answers that we got in response to our questions.

Shelly Jyoti

What draws you to textiles in particular?

 My exposure to studying fashion and clothing technology at NIFT strengthened my concepts of textiles. I ran my own design label for 10 years marking many seasonal collections for leading retail stores in India incorporating pure gold zardozi  embroidery in my classic couture collections. I must qualify that my interest in textiles and fashions stems from a very talented mother. As a child she “dolled” me up in her self-crafted designs and as a teenager I could play around with fabrics creating my own dresses even though I did not have a knowledge of pattern making. I watched my first fashion show at age 9 at a launch of Orkay Mills at Oberoi Hotels in 1966-7. I reminisce  about attending some marvellous exhibits of Indian textiles at the inauguration events at Vigyan Bhavan post independence 1965. The understanding of the richness of our traditional textiles was a quintessential part of my upbringing. My formal training as a designer, with literature and fine-art academic background informs my art practice.


Are there any fabrics that are your preferred medium? Why?

I use khadi as a canvas with Ajrakh printing/ and natural dyes both as a symbol of my country and as a material that expresses qualities of self-purification, self-reliance and independence. As an artist my works examines Gandhi’s message to humanity, struggle of India’s independence, engagement with craft communities, exploration with Ajrakh textile tradition, celebrating the subaltern and reasons to empower individuals. For all of the reasons above, my  preferred medium is hand-spun and hand-woven fabric khadi, which explores how textiles as material objects, which have a lineage of India’s freedom struggle, can be used to stitch together communities as well as convey and capture a sense of national pride and ethos.


Can you explain to our readers what is a textile mural? I wonder if there are any references from the past to help people understand it better?

A textile mural is a large piece of artwork that is painted, printed, woven or embroidered on textile as a pictorial design. It can be hung against a wall, attached directly to a wall surface or hung from the ceiling. It narrates a story or a message, through historical, social, cultural or political narrative. Historically, cotton was held sacred since the Harappan civilization. Preceding the murals, this was the earliest form of protective covering used as storytelling which is found in Buddhist practice. It also has continuous significance as mandapa or the canopy used in various rites of passage as well as canopies over deities in temples. Canopy is a reference to the ceiling wall murals.


Tell us about some of the textile murals you have made and the concepts behind them?

‘Imagined communities’ comprises 8 large textile panels as murals( 240×72 inches each) narrating the story of ‘collective fish’ as collective consciousness. These works have been subconsciously inspired by Monet’s ‘ water lilies’ murals based on their scale, magnitude , illusion of water and more! These works were created in 2019 when the India international centre in New Delhi invited me to exhibit my work in the ‘Swaraj and Collectiveness’ exhibition. The gallery space has a beautiful oval dome at the ceiling and that huge space inspired me to create large scroll murals that resembled an indigo dyed aquarium with ajrakh fish swimming around 80 feet of printed textiles around the gallery.  Arranged vertically and horizontally, they had a three-dimensional sensation. These murals travelled to Mumbai  for an exhibit at Jehangir art Gallery. They were well received by visitors and written about positively in newspapers and media. What I am offering in these works is not only Gandhi’s philosophies and the art of Ajrakh but reconceptualising Ajrakh  traditions in contemporary art and craft textile art.


What is the role of the craftsmen in this process? How do you collaborate and incorporate the craft of weaving /making textile with your contemporary compilations?

I have been working in the studio of craftsman Juned Mohmad Khatri, son of Master Craftsman Ismail Mohmad khatri in Bhuj Gujarat for more than a decade. The technique of stamping of blocks and washing and drying is the direct  contribution of my artisans. Before I leave for Bhuj I envision the concept, and create the initial images on paper in a pictorial  format (on imperial sized sheets of paper) which includes details of pattern blocks, colour combinations, and iconography. On arriving in Bhuj, I am assigned  two artisans by Juned Mohmad Khatri. I speak to them about my concept and  gradually I take the work forward for stamping based on my pictorial design pattern. The process evolves as the stamping process goes on. There is a palpable sense of exploration, experimentation and joyfulness among all of us through the entire process.  During my exhibitions, I invite craftsmen to view the works in the gallery space. Juned has been invited to hold workshops and lectures for whoever is interested in learning about the craft and art. This has always been part of outreach programs during my exhibitions. Overall, it has been a very interesting collaboration and sharing of knowledge and skills. Juned’s consistent input is important for me. I narrate my concept to the artisans and allow them to bring their own invention and creativity to my project. This type of  art creation with textiles has never been done by these artisans and they are quite interested to learn from my concepts as I learn from their expertise. My designs are entirely contemporary interpretations of the politics of indigo, salt, khadi movements of Gandhi, the meaning of swaraj of India’s freedom struggle in relevance to 21st century.


Textile murals are fairly new in India. How is the response you are getting from the audience?

I am gratified that I have  received  very positive and enthusiastic responses to my works. Large industrial houses, corporations, museums and art lovers alike seem to value my understanding and interpretation of Gandhian philosophy translated through textiles in the Ajrakh technique. (Which is known historically for the use of natural dyes and I think is safe to say is among the finest examples of reverse block printing in the world)  Textile murals are not new, it is an age old tradition in India. Historically murals date from around Indus valley civilization. In contemporary times, a few textile artists and designers are creating textile murals commercially as well.

What is the market that buys this art? How are the market conditions? What is the market share of textile art in the visual arts space? Are buyers in India positive about textile art installations?

These are unprecedented times due to Covid, the market conditions are bad not only for the economy at large, but also for soft creative industries like arts, crafts and design. During the pandemic many people have faced challenges with their finances and therefore investment in art necessarily takes a back seat. Physical viewing, the “touch and feel” of an artwork and direct interaction with the artist has been severely affected during the pandemic and is important for any serious transaction.  I’m confident that the art market will bounce back again in the near term. The textile art market has always been a small segment of the overall art market. Regarding my own works, in the words of Ismail Mohamad Khatri ‘ Shelly’s art speaks”.  The craftsmen also are keen to know what my next projects are. I love to share my thoughts on Gandhi with them and they enjoy to listening to my ideas. It’s a unique amalgamation of art and craft. Many people are not able to comprehend the thought process between creative and functional textiles such as a unique piece of art on khadi utilizing old textile techniques of reverse block printing with natural dyes. I introduced these works more than a decade ago and I feel that my work is steadily gaining greater recognition and appreciation.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of textile as a medium of expression in art?

The creative process is quite personal and based on each artist’s motivations, skills and resources. I feel it would be unfair to categorize any expression of art as having an advantage or disadvantage.


 What are the most exciting projects you have done so far? Why are these special to you?

The content of my work is building moral and peaceful societies through the idea of self-realization. The hypothesis is based on Gandhi’s ideas of Svadharma, Sarvodaya,  Svadeshi,  Svaraj on exhibitions titled ‘Indigo Narratives (2009); Salt: The Great March (2013) The Khadi March: Just Five Meters (2016);  Bound by Duty: An Idea of Swaraj and Collectiveness (2018)

These exhibitions feature art scrolls, site specific installations, poetries, narrating Gandhi’s experiments that he succeeded in with reference to  his first champaran movement 1917-18, Salt March movement 1934 , his  idea of khadi and swaraj as community/nation building connecting past with the present. These works created in last decade were exhibited as Retro/introspective works on title  ‘Revisiting Gandhi: The Art of Shelly Jyoti 2009-18 by Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, New Delhi in October 2018

These exhibitions have been special to me because I revere the philosophy and work done by Gandhi, the father of our nation. I also appreciate the way Gandhi has brought great segments of the population with him on concepts that I have been inspired the most i.e. svadharma, sarvodaya, swadeshi and swaraj. For me these  are great memories  to cherish. The underlying ideas of Gandhi remain similar, but the iconography changes according to each of my exhibitions.

It’s been a fascinating journey!