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The Ancient Art of Jaipur Block Printing, and What It Means to India

Le 11 juin 2018, 11:47 dans Humeurs 0

Bagru, in Rajasthan, is still considered a village — and it is, in the ancient way its society is structured according to inherited roles and customs. But like many such Indian villages, it has been swallowed by encroaching urbanization. Straddling the highway to Jaipur, the town of 30,000 people is dense with two- and three-story concrete buildings that occlude any sense of the landscape. Cows and pigs eat the garbage that lines the road as teenagers in jeans zip by on scooters. But in home workshops scattered throughout, you can still find chippas, a caste of printers who continue day after day to stamp lengths of cotton fabric with color using hand-carved wood blocks. They were taught this trade by their parents, who were, in turn, taught by theirs — each generation working almost exactly as the one before, going back at least 300 years.

While printing designs onto fabric most likely originated in China about 4,500 years ago, it was on the Indian subcontinent where hand-blocked fabric reached its highest visual expression. Indians possessed unparalleled expertise in the secrets of natural plant dyes, particularly with mordants (metallic salts that both create color and allow it to adhere to fabric). A kind of mud resist-printing, called dabu, which allows areas of a design to be reserved from dye, also flourished here. A series of combinations of mordant and resist stamping and dyeing enabled Indian printers to create uniquely complex designs, coveted from Southeast Asia and palaces of Mughal emperors to the far-flung capitals of Western Europe. Between outside influences and the diversity of the subcontinent’s own indigenous communities and tribes, India has yielded one of the most magnificent pattern vocabularies ever. And yet for the past 200 years the industry has been on the precipice of extinction, doomed in part by the popularity that helped create it. Add technological advances, corruption, bungled policies and the greater income opportunities in India’s cities, and the picture looks bleak.

On a single road at the edge of Bagru, hereditary carvers, mostly fathers and sons, squat inside tiny open studios, chiseling designs traced onto teak. In the center of town, families of printers stand before long tables covered with fabric, dipping blocks into color and stamping them with a thump thump of the hand to ensure a strong print on the fabric. Each morning, the dabu printers, another specialized group, mix a batch of mud made from clay, lime and fermented wheat and sift it with their bare feet through muslin so their wives, and perhaps their children, can print it in patterns onto fabric before bringing it over to the indigo vats, operated by the men of yet another historical caste. Even the washing is done by a particular group, the dhobi, who stand all day waist-deep in water baths. All these activities, each part of the multistep process, center around a vast field, where fabrics — in indigo, madder, saffron and hot pink — are laid out to dry or hung from the rooftops of the surrounding buildings. India’s caste system is less apparent in cities, but villages like this still operate according to it: Chippa, for instance, derives from a conflation of the Nepal Bhasa chhi (to dye) and pa (to leave something to bask in the sun) and chappana (“stamping” in Hindi); it also denotes one’s caste, one’s job, and is often also one’s last name.

An English rage in the 1700s for chic, cheap Indian floral cottons led to an enormous boom that coincided largely with the golden age of Mughal Empire patronage, when the Maharajah were outfitting their courts, themselves and their numerous women with finely printed diaphanous muslins. But the advent of mass production in England meant the end of this export market for India, and punishing colonial legislation forced the Indians to buy cheap imitations of their own work. In that moment, artistic knowledge, which had been passed down for possibly thousands of years, from one generation to the next, teetered on extinction.

Because Bagru always focused on the local market, catering to other rural tribes and communities instead of royal or British commissions, it didn’t suffer the boom and bust of wealthier producers. Still, by the 1970s, Bagru’s poverty worsened when its local base turned toward cheaply printed synthetics, and the industry was all but dead.

Around this same time, the Jaipur-based design company Anokhi began seeking out families with specialized knowledge to resuscitate traditional patterns and design new ones, helping to instill in craftsmen a sense of value in their work. Anokhi and others, along with a new wave of small, artisan-dedicated companies, such as the Los Angeles-based Block Shop, have helped keep both a village and a tradition relevant. Block Shop co-owner Lily Stockman moved to Jaipur in 2010 to study painting and eventually found her way to block printing; her sister Hopie, a textile designer, soon followed. Part of what distinguishes the pair from many foreign designers hiring artisans is that the two are craftspeople themselves, having studied and practiced the techniques they employ, allowing them to better understand the processes and possibilities, as well as the realities of the time and labor involved. The pair’s work is grounded in an appreciation of these ancient practices, while the simplified geometries of their designs come from Lily’s modernist aesthetic, and the pale saffrons and ochers of the California and Rajasthan deserts. Together, the pair offer good — not just fair — pay, and they support education, health care and clean water initiatives in the village.

Block prints are done by eye, and telltale signs of the human hand, even imperfections, are part of the ineffable humanity and beauty of the craft. But screen prints now have these mistakes designed into them: machines mimicking the imperfections of man. How, then, can craft survive in a world with so much stacked against it? Perhaps with the knowledge that it involves a culture built around a community, in which families and neighbors are working and living in tandem, often across religions, tribes and generations, from a shared history. It is not an easy life. But it is a necessary one. And finally, it may be that one doesn’t so much see craft, but actually, feels it.

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Turkey’s fashion bloggers reach out to Arab world

Le 18 avril 2018, 05:33 dans Humeurs 0

ANKARA: Turkish fashion bloggers are proving a big hit across the Arab world as growing numbers of Muslim women seek new ways to express themselves while remaining true to their religious and cultural values.

Wafa Alkhalifa, from Riyadh, has followed Turkish blogger Gulsum Elkhatroushi on Instagram since they met in London last year at a shopping mall.

“I couldn’t take my eyes off her hijab, it was so elegant. So when I asked her where she bought it from, I learned that she was a fashion blogger and at the same time a designer,” Alkhalifa told Arab News.

Elkhatroushi, who is married to a Libyan, is one of the most followed fashion bloggers, especially among conservative women, and has 244,000 followers on Instagram. She is mostly followed by the young and wealthy. “One-third of my followers are from the Arab world and the Middle East. One of my dreams is to set up a branch in that region — which is a big mystery for me — to get closer to my female audience,” she said.

“My fashion concept is to conserve the inherent characteristics of cultural roots and incorporate it into fashion trends. I think Arab women are very successful at this.”

The popularity of Turkish soap operas has helped to promote Turkish fashion and bloggers. Meanwhile, a Turkish magazine, Ala — dubbed the “Vogue of the Veiled” — has offered creative interpretations of Muslim-conscious fashion since 2012.

Turkey’s expanding middle class, youthful population and digitalization of the retail sector has made fashion an increasingly important industry.

The Turkish e-commerce market is set to grow by 17.3 percent this year, according to Statista, an online business intelligence portal. The Turkish e-commerce market was worth $6,605 million in 2018, similar to Saudi Arabia’s at $6,128.2 million, it said.

Gamze Biran, a 30-year-old blogger, said her 124,000 online followers include many Arab women who choose clothes to make them feel better regardless of fashion trends.

“I have a strong audience in the Arab world. I’m glad they like my style and are inspired by me. I get nice feedback about the accessories and foulards (scarves) I use with my clothes,” she said.

“I think that Turkish fashion bloggers are increasingly reaching out to the Arab world and the Middle East because there are many common religious and cultural values. We resemble each other in terms of body shape and beauty concepts.”

Saudi Arabia is Turkey’s third-biggest export market in the Middle East for clothing, worth $169.5 million in the first half of 2017, according to the General Secretariat of Istanbul Textile and Apparel Exporter Associations.

Turkish bloggers face competition from Kuwait, Lebanon and Dubai, including Huda Khattan, Hanadi Diab and Najla Kadour, but have carved out an important niche.

Hurrem Ahu Kalfa, who has a Turkish father and Saudi Arabian mother, is a blogger and organizer of fashion events for wealthy and devout women in Turkey. She has 229,000 followers on Instagram.

“For the past couple of years, I have been selling my modern-style hijab caps on Instagram,” she said. “I have many clients within Turkey and abroad, including from Gulf countries.”

Shahad is a young Saudi who recently started to follow Kalfa on Instagram. “The reason I follow Turkish fashion bloggers is that I like Turkish fashion and Turkey in general,” she said. “Following Turkish television was also influential in my decision.”

Glastonbury isn’t about looking ‘on trend’ – it’s about survival

Le 29 juin 2017, 05:56 dans Humeurs 0

I love this question, David, for the entirely narcissistic reason that it captures so much about my own teenage years. On the one hand, your daughter is probably fit to burst about her incipient weekend of wild adult independence. On the other, she is panicking about her wardrobe to such an extent that her father is stepping up to the bat, ready to brave the terror that is River Island in the middle of festival season, just to make his darling little girl happy.

For my 12th birthday, my parents got me a ticket to Madonna’s Blond Ambition tour, thus acknowledging my imminent crossover from child to teenager. I knew that once I went to this concert I would be a changed person. But because I couldn’t possibly go to Wembley on my own, and my parents would rather eat their hair than go to a Madonna concert, they bought another ticket for Michelle, the New Zealand student who lived with us, in exchange for childcare. So, in other words, I went to see Madonna with my nanny. Hello, maturity!

“What is she doing?” I remember asking at one point when Madonna frantically rubbed a crucifix against her crotch.

“Er, I think she has an itch?” Michelle replied.

“Ah right,” I said, which made sense, as what else could she possibly be doing? Truly, as Kevin from The Wonder Years would say, I really grew up that night and nothing was ever the same again.

But to your question, David. Regular readers might be feeling a sense of deja vu here, because, yes, I have been known to write about Glastonbury fashion before. In fact, I would estimate that I have written about it every summer I have been at the Guardian, meaning I have now written about it a, frankly, midlife crisis-inducing 16 times before, and that is because I am on a righteous crusade here. This, dammit, is my cause, one that I feel sure will one day net me not just the Pulitzer but the Orwell and quite possibly the Nobel: I will not rest until I finally put paid to the ridiculous idea promoted by, er, the media that Glastonbury is in any way about being fashionable. Maybe it is for celebrities who fly in and out by helicopter from Babington House, but, for everyone else, it is and should be about one thing only: survival.

It would be tasteless, wrong and quite possibly a sackable offence to describe Glastonbury as my annual Vietnam – to paraphrase the Dude, what the fuck does Glastonbury have to do with Vietnam? But it should be approached like an endurance test, which, in my case, means dry shampoo and wet wipes. The idea that anyone – literally, anyone – on that site cares what Grazia thinks about their outfit while they’re trying to navigate the portable toilets without catching an infection is a myth that can only be maintained by someone who has not been to the festival.

Earlier this year I went to Coachella in Palm Springs, California, for work (I know, I am literally a coal miner) and that is quite a revelation for someone who has only ever been to British festivals, because the differences between the two festivals exemplify the differences between Britain and the US. While British people gripe that Glastonbury is all gentrified and middle-class now, Coachella laughs and says, “Hold my cold-pressed green juice.” Aside from being actually sunny and beautiful – it’s held on a polo ground – Coachella has things like a pop-up Sephora (basically, the American equivalent of Space NK), air-conditioned dance tents and places to sit. In other words, it is a pleasure to be at and proud of it, because it is American, and in the US, convenience and personal comfort are part of the constitution. Glastonbury, by contrast, takes the entirely British point of view that convenience is shameful and being uncomfortable is an essential part of the experience, which is why so many people in this country spend so much money every year to stand in an overcrowded field in Somerset for three days with only dreams of indoor plumbing to get them through the wet, cold nights.

Anyway, my point, eventually, David, is that your lovely daughter doesn’t need anything special for Glastonbury: a waterproof and a warm jacket, a zip-up bag (so nothing falls out), wellingtons, long socks, sweatshirts and minimal toiletries. Maybe makeup, if she can be bothered, which I definitely cannot, because, really, who can be bothered to take off their makeup at 4am when they finally return to their tent?

There is no way your daughter will believe you when you tell her this but the real sign of adulthood is not fitting in but learning not to give a toss about what anyone else thinks. This means not worrying if you are “on trend” at Glastonbury, or if you understand everything Madonna does, or what others think of you, full stop. The best experience she could possibly have at the festival is just to have fun: dance like a fool in the dance tent at three in the afternoon, fall over and walk around covered in mud for two days. But it takes some of us well into our 30s before we reach that level of maturity.

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