by Rahul KumarMay 10, 2022
A series of monumental textile works were commissioned for the Dior Spring/Summer 2022 Couture presentation in Paris by Maria Grazia Chiuri, Creative Director of Dior women’s collections. Mumbai-based Chanakya Atelier and its Creative Director, Karishma Swali, collaborated with Dior for the commission, and they chose art of contemporary Indian artists Madhvi and Manu Parekh for this project. The works depict traditional Indian motifs and spiritual abstractions that celebrate the dichotomy between male and female, real and surreal, action and stillness. This new conversation was the result of a collaborative engagement between Maria Grazia Chiuri and Karishma Swali, whose Chanakya School of Craft created the artworks. For this installation, Chiuri also worked with art historians and curators, Maria Alicata and Paola Ugolini.
Chiuri has sought to collaborate with numerous women artists from around the world: dancers, choreographers, musicians, poets, photographers, filmmakers and visual artists. With this latest immersive experience, which interprets the artists’ paintings and renders them in exquisite embroidery and textile techniques, nods to the couture lineage of Dior in parallel with the rich heritage of Indian craftsmanship. The installation was created by 320 master artisans who worked for more than three months, embroidering 340 square metres of work entirely by hand. The confluence of contemporary artistry, couture techniques and textile excellence culminate in the presentation that reinvents the role of the atelier, of the artist, and of the couturier.
I speak with Karishma Swali of Chanakya and artist Manu Parekh about the project.
Rahul Kumar: How was this project conceived – why did you think of including the works of Indian artists, Manu and Madhvi in specific?
Karishma Swali: I began collecting the works by the Parekhs personally many years ago and found an incredible synergy between modernism and traditional Indian motifs, with a deep reverence for exceptional craftsmanship as a unifying thread, exemplifying my mission for Chanakya and our School of Craft.
What followed was a long series of conversations together where we realised we share a deep and common life for our cultural and craft legacies. We decided to come together to collaborate on a collective creation of artistic installations where I interpreted their art through hand craft.
The collective vision for this collaboration along with Maria Grazia Chiuri, Creative Director of Dior women’s collections, was to create an immersive experience that celebrates the culture of craftsmanship and the interconnection between us all. This collaboration with the artists aims to overcome the division between art and craft, invoking a shared language between the two.
Rahul: How were the works selected/curated for the event?
Manu Parekh: The selection was entirely done by Karishma and Maria. They were keen to work on the theme of masculine and feminine, and to bring colours of rural India through Indian craft traditions. I am told when Karishma proposed our works, Maria was on-board in less than five minutes!
Karishma: The selection process followed an idea of celebrating the male/female dichotomy, not as opposition, but as complementarity. Madhvi Parekh’s art is the confluence of modernism and traditional Indian craft patterns, and is steeped in folk traditions, her life growing up in her village in Gujarat’s abundance of nature and Indian customs as diverse as the rangoli, embroidery and the Bhavai travelling theatre. To interpret her artwork through embroidery, at Chanakya, we cultivated a folk vernacular by using dimensional techniques in repetition to form background textures that evoke a magical world of folktales and the pastoral idyll, populated by village deities, forests, animals, children, and amorphous forms.
Manu Parekh’s art constantly invites the viewer to travel through mental landscapes and spiritual abstractions, with a relentless commitment that makes him one of the most singular voices in contemporary Indian art. Manu Parekh is among India's best-known modern artists and one of India’s most inventive painters. His works feature beloved places like his iconic Benares series, or the energies of interconnectedness that one can see in his series about the third eye. To interpret the art of Manu Parekh, meticulous attention was paid to creating layers revealing many hidden details that invite individual exploration.
Rahul: Work images were converted into tapestry, mostly in an altered scale as compared to the original work. Does that take away from the intent with which the paintings were created?
Karishma: The idea of altering the scale of the works into a monumental size was to allow viewers an all-immersive experience that explores contemporary craft, and the shared language between art and craft, celebrating the inter connectedness between these two disciplines. I think the overwhelming response and appreciation received for Indian culture and art is a clear indicator that it only added value to both the viewer and the art.
Our artistic collaboration is devoted to our culture and craft, to harmony and to the collective energies between us all.
Manu: No, rather I feel this added to our works. There is a limitation of scale as artists, whatever we can visualise and create. This project allowed for the works to be seen at a massive scale while maintaining the delicate details. Also, the use of textile and embroidery added a whole new dimension and opened up possibilities for us. The new medium created distinct textures. The craftspeople used varying thickness of threads, in cotton and at places silk just to provide the required character to the final piece.
Rahul: Further, the works were presented as a backdrop to a fashion show. While it is a first for Indian arts at such a prestigious platform, how in your view is this intervention adding to experiencing the art itself?
Karishma: Christian Dior before becoming a couturier was an art gallerist and always passionate about the arts. Maria Grazia Chiuri is perpetuating and celebrating this legacy by treating the haute couture show space as an art gallery to celebrate art, world culture and craft excellence. When something is shared in the spirit of celebrating a revered culture or craft the experience is always rewarding. The works continued to be on display at the Rodin Museum, Paris, for seven days after the show, giving all art and craft enthusiasts an opportunity for a close encounter with the works.
Today, we are all experiencing a paradigm shift in creative culture. Marrying art, tradition, and fashion through a shared vision of craft excellence fortifies a narrative that transcends pre-established barriers and instead celebrates the wonder and joy of culture and craft. I am truly honoured and humbled to be able to represent our country’s incredible artisanal legacy and to share with the world the wonder of craft and our inspiring artisans.
Manu: The intent of Maria is very evident in the entire project – that of women power, respect for heritage and crafts, and keeping all this tied in a very contemporary way. Madhvi and I felt that Maria in fact kept her own creation of the apparel muted in black and white to position our works. The backdrops at large scale, in bright colours and made using crafts rooted in India activated the space. I feel these visual elements took precedence in the environment.
Rahul: How do Dior women’s collections by Maria Grazia Chiuri integrate with the backdrop created by works of Parekhs?
Karishma: The women’s collection was not connected to the backdrops at all – they were both two separate narratives. The only unifying thread between them was the celebration of craft excellence.
Rahul: How does such initiatives bring together art, design, and fashion – especially there is a three-way intersection – the artists, the craftspeople who made the textile, and designers who designed the apparel.
Manu: Not many people know, but in my early career I have extensively worked in rural India as part of All India Handloom Board. I travelled villages and interacted with craftspeople for over 25 years. So, in my own work, there is a constant reference to our agrarian base and crafts traditions. I feel a sense of responsibility in a Gandhian way to keep my art focussed around these themes. Madhvi’s paintings too are rooted in the vernacular. She grew up in rural India where young girls learn the craft of stitching and embroidery as part of their training to be eligible to get married. Going beyond the functional aspect of it, this act allowed for the girls to move into a world of fantasy. For her personally, life comes a full circle with these embroidered works on textile.
This project is therefore the result of over 320 highly skilled crafts people, two visionaries in Maria and Karishma, and then Madhvi and Manu. It is a true confluence. And I strongly feel we can do wonders if we break these walls of silos of isms.
Karishma: Our hope and endeavour through this creative collaboration was also to be a catalyst of craft preservation and artisanal communities by patronising them and through a message of celebrating them and acknowledging the wonder of their skills, unique in the world.
I am honoured to bring to life our collective vision with Maria Grazia Chiuri, Madhvi Parekh and Manu Parekh for this immersive experience, which frames the Dior haute couture presentation. The aim of the project was to celebrate culture, craft excellence and the incredible artisanal legacies that India holds by bringing together our collective creation along with the two artists: Madhvi and Manu Parekh to celebrate the multi-dimensional forms of Indian art and the shared language between art and craft through the creation of these exceptional works.
I have been experimenting with craft for over 20 years and I learn from it every day. The craft in this collaboration is focussed on harmonies and collective energies.
It is difficult to find words that describe the wonder and wisdom of craft – it needs to be experienced.
Rahul: How will the installed textile works be used after the event?
Karishma: The art installation was on display at the Rodin Museum until January 31, 2022, post which a selection of the works will become part of the Dior Museum archives, while the rest of the works will be auctioned towards building a corpus in the Chanakya Foundation towards craft education and women’s empowerment.