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Roots And Practices Of A Dying Art

Laila Tyabji

By Anna L. Dallapiccola
Mapin Publishing, Ahmedabad  in association with V&A Publishing, London, 2015, pp. 192 with 120 illustrations, Rs. 2950.00


In 1983 the noted scholar of early Indian textiles and trade routes, Lotika Varadarajan wrote a seminal book on South Indian Traditions Of Kalamkari, published by the National Institute of Design & Perennial Press, It covered all three traditions of South Indian Kalamkari—Macchlipatnam, Srikalahasti and the lesser known Sikkinaikenpet. Now over 30 years later, comes a new book on Kalamkari by Anna L. Dallapiccola. What is different, what has changed? First, Anna Dallapicolla focusses only on temple hangings. The book catalogues a collection of nineteen selected 19th century pieces from the V&A Museum in London. Despite this, it is more than twice the size—in length, breadth and girth. Also, at Rs 2950, this beautiful production is more than ten times the price of the modestly priced 250 rupee NID publication. Is this simply inflation, or does it mark a shift in the appreciation and study of India’s crafts and craftspeople? Certainly, the last couple of decades have seen a huge flowering of books on different aspects of India’s extraordinary textile and hand craft traditions nationally and internationally—both glossy coffee table productions and scholarly treatises—sometimes (as in the case of the Kalamkari book) both aspects combined in one wonderful package. Coincidentally, two of these landed on my desk as gifts as I was penning this review—Vandana Bhandari’s amazing Jewelled Textiles: Gold& Silver Embellished Cloth Of India, published by OM Publishers, for which I wrote the Foreword—literally a jewel of a book, encased in a gleaming red satin and gold boxed cover, and weighing as much as if it was a golden ingot, and Gates Of The Lord: The Tradition Of Krishna Paintings edited by Madhuvanti Ghose, and published by the Art Institute of Chicago—another beautiful yet scholarly volume. Publishers like Mapin, Om, Roli Books and Niyogi Press have done much to create awareness of our varied and amazing art-forms and craft traditions. Sadly however, the sumptuous presentation and packaging of these books does not match the condition of craftspeople themselves—their lives remain as marginalized and unacknowledged as three decades ago, though greatly reduced in their numbers—we lose 15% of our craftspeople every decade. Also sad (and incredibly shortsighted) is the fact that no parallel attempt is being made to produce books on craft traditions at price points and in languages that would make them accessible to the craftspeople themselves. One of the many paradoxes ...

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