Being in conversation with Kamaldeep Kaur has turned out to be one of my most educational experiences I’ve had in the short span of a few hours! She was here to participate in the Srishti exhibition organized by Cctn to showcase her amazing array of fabrics manufactured using age old methods of bandhani , different kinds of Shibori tye –dye and block printing. She is renowned world over for her detailed knowledge on all these techniques garnered from many years of exploration and experimentation to revive this part of India’s textile heritage.
As I got her to open up about her foray into the world of textiles , she started at the beginning and filled me in on a wealth of information about her work and why she’s so passionate about it.
Kamaldeep was always interested in patterns as a young girl , she would constantly draw and paint for the sheer enjoyment it gave her. It wasn’t until much later when she saw an advertisement on television for a fashion designing course did she even think that it could be a career option.
There was no looking back after that. She joined a 2 year fashion course at the South Delhi Polytechnic and enjoyed her classes immensely. It was here that she was introduced to the concept of tying and dyeing fabric. She clearly remembers feeling a sense of unbridled awe when she made her first garment using this process. In her own words she calls it a “magical experience”! It was just one aspect of her course but it was what excited her the most. She would spend many hours late into the night making different combinations and patterns using the knowledge she had gained.
At the end of that course ,she had an impressive collection of fabrics that she had created using the tye and dye technique as well as having documented the same.
This portfolio of sorts is what landed her a job with the famous JJ Vallaya who helped her further by teaching her how to understand “quality , finish and colour sense “ .When she moved to Ahmedabad ,she was offered the position of designer at Gurjari ( Gujarat State Emporium) for her ‘expertise in textile techniques’ . Part of her job was work with karigars for the Design Development Project. This is when she found her true calling.
She went to the villages , met with karigars , sometimes stayed at their homes for months on end to help them hone their craft for it to meet commercial requirements and at the same time revive it in a manner that facilitated development of the villagers and their families.
She took on this herculean task with a purpose, became a member of the British library to find enough reading material to help her on her journey of getting as much information as possible on the craft that was indigenous to the people of Kutch.
Kamaldeep then attended the International Shibori conference at NID . It takes place once in 2 years in different countries. The subsequent one held in Japan was where she actually realized the impact of her work. The encouragement came from other craft enthusiasts around the globe who requested her to come and give talks and lecture demonstrations about her fascinating techniques.
That took her several times to places like Switzerland, Malaysia , Canada , Leipzig where her skill was deeply respected and it also provided a great platform to showcase the work of our talented artisans. She speaks emotionally how a karigar who lived in penury until this project started later on managed to earn enough to build a house and get his child married .A tale that he repeats to this very day whenever she visits his village.
Her obstacles were not just the distance or finances but much more basic. For example ,bandhini tying is done majorly by Muslim women of the Kathiri community who are not allowed to leave their homes.The craft is passed on from mother to daughter.The dyeing is done by predominantly the men. Now these pieces had to be transported to the office in Bhuj and she had to work out a system where not only would the garments be made on time but also to fit certain standards of quality while having to assure these women of the continuance of work from day to day. She started with 8 people fifteen years ago and now helps provide employment to close to 600 village folk.
She has revived the process of Rogan ( using minerals and oil seeds to get gold and silver printing) , usage of metal blocks, mallots and many kinds of resist dyeing and printing. She also help the Bandhini craftspersons to create their ‘Naliya’ prints for the Anokhi museum and that too is a constant work in process.
Her passion for the trade , she says, lies in texile revival and not fashion designing. Kamaldeep believes that teaching is the best way forward and that the most successful manner is in contemporizing the craft and making it suitable to today’s needs.
As if on cue , Saindhavi Sushil , owner and designer of Kayal brand of clothing stopped by to buy fabric for her studio. She and her partner source fabric from across the country and she was happy to have the opportunity to buy the beautiful prints right here for her line. This is the kind of demand which Kamaldeep envisions for her painstakingly designed creations.
As I listen to this lady talk about her work with modesty and having admired the beautiful colours and vivid patterns in her many bolts of yardage I am deeply grateful to have had the chance to be able to do my bit to give back to this wonderful community of gifted humans.