Mila in Ahmedabad

In August 2016 I travelled to India. I first arrived in Mumbai, where I spend 4 days visiting several museums and galleries. The rest of my stay (3,5 weeks) I have spent in Ahmedabad (Gujarat) where I had the opportunity to meet and work with the lovely Chitara Family. The Chitara family has been practicing the art of Mata Ni Pachedi for 7 generation, passing on the art from son to son. The craft is only transferred from man to man since women often move away from their families after marriage, making it harder to control the quality of the work and to make sure the art form stays only within the family’s own circles. Women do however help with the colouring of the pieces.

The Chitara workshop is based in Vasna in Ahmedabad, where they work together and collaborate on different projects. Several of the Chitara men have won awards and their work has been featured in multiple national and international exhibitions. Kirit Chitara is currently the youngest practicing painter of the Chitara family. He has a strong drive to keep the art of Mata Ni Pachedi alive and active. Next to the production of his paintings, he also works as a teacher at several colleges and schools in Ahmedabad, as well as teaching artists and students from all around the world in his own workshop. One of his wishes is to show his paintings outside of India, to familiarize a larger audience with this very special and meaningful tradition.

Mata Ni Pachedi, also known as the “Kalamkari of Gujarat”, is a 300-year-old art form. Mata Ni Pachedi literally means “behind the mother goddess”. These large hangings, with their episodic layout arranged in registers around a central figure, parallel similar imagery painted on temple walls. They presumably developed using local textile techniques of hand drawing with the Kalam (bamboo pen) and dyeing (and in some cases block printing), as portable equivalents of such wall paintings, adapted for use at festivals and ceremonies in rural locations or in locations without built temples. These portable shrines would be carried from place to place as required or when a ritual had been commissioned, and they blur the boundary between textiles and painting.

The composition of a Mata ni Pachedi temple hanging is flat and is drawn in sections. There is no way of erasing mistakes so the act of painting requires a skilful and steady hand. The more detailed, filled and crowded the composition, the better the painting. Repetition of pattern, details within details and the absence of blank space are important elements for the creation of a successful painting. Boys develop their handwriting by watching their elders paint and by taking their paintings as an example for their own drawings. In this way a distinct manner of drawing is passed over from one painter to the other.

Over the course of 14 days Kirit has shown and explained the process involved in the production of the Mata ni Pachedi wall hangings step by step. With patience and devotion he has taught me how to mix and prepare the natural dyes, how to build up a traditional composition and how to paint with the Kalam.

Visiting Ahmedabad has been a great experience, for the largest part because the Chitara family has been so incredibly hospitable. They have cooked me delicious food, invited me for a very special celebration and helped me out with whatever I needed. Kirit was a very good teacher and it was a real joy to learn from him, it was very interesting to talk to him about topics of art, crafts and so much more.

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