Handmade paper, Gandhi’s other pet-cause for local self-reliance, is infused with meaning at this calligraphy exhibit
Here is something not commonly known: In Pudukuppam, a coastal village under an hour’s drive from Puducherry, the spread of malaria was contained by making handmade paper from algae found in the saline water lagoons.
It is this message of sustainable solutions that the Gandhi Virasat – Kagaz Kala exhibit at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) gives as soon as you enter its space. The entry has sheets of handmade paper, hung loosely on a large wooden frame. About a score of them, in various colours, are there for you to touch and feel their different textures. It’s a subtle way of advocating for handmade paper as a green, multi-solution-driven supplement to mass-produced paper.
Infusing this canvas with more meaning, is the work of 11 calligraphy, type, and calligram artists. In their own distinct styles, they interpret quotes and iconic moments from the life of Mahatma Gandhi. Designed by architect Suparna Bhalla and commissioned by activist and curator Jaya Jaitly, the exhibit is a collaboration with Jaitly’s Dastkari Haat Samiti. This is one in the many country-wide social and cultural activities that commemorate Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary this year.
“When it comes to Gandhi everyone focuses on khadi. We wanted to turn the focus onto one more thing he promoted equally: handmade paper. It just isn’t talked about enough,” Jaitly said. The artist displayed here chose ffour or five canvases from the 10 different paper samples given to them. A range of natural waste went into producing each — from rhino poop, and hosiery waste, to jute fibre, sisal fibre, and the bark of the argeli plant.
A Gandhi quotation on the relationship between the country’s culture and the heart of its citizens, is composed in broad-set Devanagari with thick-bottomed-flourishes. The interpretation, by artist Kalpesh Gosavi, a Sir J J Institute of Applied Art alumnus, evokes the wide spread of a land and the sense of a drawn-map. In translation, it reads, “The culture of any state resides in the heart and soul of the citizen who lives within.”
Standing out in his temporary suspension of the letter, is calligram artist Poosapati Parameshwar Raju. His plain, bold red strokes bring some striking and defining scenes from the Mahatma’s life onto handmade paper. The Dandi March scene, with three single flourishes shows the sea, and a mere three lines and a circle to show Gandhi bending down to collect salt.
Raju’s poignant last frame is the only one of his works that uses letters: ‘Hey Ram’ in Hindi, underline the end of Gandhi’s life.
“Calligraphy isn’t simply an art form. It honours the beauty of script and language. We have 22 official languages and 13 scripts. Why haven’t we ever promoted calligraphy?” Jaitly asks, explaining that the art of lettering has existed with both Persian and Hindu artists. “Once we adopted the British education system and English was imposed on us, we haven’t been proud of our languages. Let’s try and learn as many of our languages as possible,” she added.
In line with this, Qamar Dagar and Rajeev Kumar, two of the artists, will do demonstrations and encourage attendees to try their hand at calligraphy.
From one corner of the exhibit space, an instrumental cover of one Gandhi’s favourite songs, Vaishnav Janato by the band Renaissance plays in loops. This remembrance to the Mahatma captures all senses.
The exhibition is on until February 17, at Twin Art Gallery, IGNCA, New Delhi. The workshop will be conducted on February 9 and 10 from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.