Designer Ritu Kumar is no alien to Indian patterns and designs in her labels. Her latest exhibition, Kanaat, brings many of the nation’s ancient textiles back in the limelight, and beautifully so. From the resist dyeing and printing technique Ajrakh, to Sanganer’s hand block printing, the two-day long display was backed by travels from around the country. The Padma Shree awardee tells us about her inspirations, travels, and more! By Bayar Jain

1. Your latest exhibition, Kanaat, is inspired by diverse traditions across several regions. Tell us the story behind it.

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Details from #KanaatByRituKumar . The above setup is a true to scale recreation of what an aristocratic English or French bedroom would have looked like decorated with Tree of Life furnishings in the late 17th and 18th century. During this period, the Coromandel coast of India became an important centre for textiles, producing magnificent Trees of Life textiles, often referred to as Palampores or Chintz intended for export to the European market. . Kanaat | क़नात | قنات is an Urdu term for a textile panel often hand-painted or hand-printed. Historically used in the Indian subcontinent, these Kanaats inspired the growth of printed fabrics in the Indian subcontinent and other parts of Asia and Europe. . . . Curated by Mrs Ritu Kumar with text and scenography by @mayankmansinghkaul #KanaatByRituKumar #indiantextiles #antiquetextiles #comingsoon #ritukumarhome #ritukumar #event #exhibition #newdelhi

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Most of India is not very conversant with the country’s tradition in textiles because a lot of it was exported. Now, you have no contact with a lot of the old textiles that India had, and the genius there was in textiles. One of the reasons for this; most fabrics don’t last in the Indian subcontinent due to the heat. At the same time, the few things that are lying in museums are not accessible. We also don’t have a very vigorous communication system in the faculties teaching textiles to be able to communicate what India was, and what India once had. This exhibition is a retrospective of at least 600 years of traditions and textiles which belong, not only to one section, but to seven-eight sections of India; each one with its own handwriting. We brought up what it was about, what they did, what their specialties were, and the difference it made by trading with these countries. Trading textiles brought people to India; spices not so much. Today, the situation is that most of our textiles are available abroad, not in India. This exhibition was a way of addressing that situation. It’s more of an education.

Also, we’ve done a home-line based on these textiles. A lot of the home lines in India don’t even have access to these fabrics to be able to replicate them. We hope that people vibe with them now.

2. Why the name Kanaat?

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Details from #KanaatByRituKumar. . A recreation of a Kanaat used by the travelling armies of the Mughal empire.The panels of the tent feature oversized poppies, a recurring motif of the Mughal karkhana. It can be conjectured that these Kanaats were produced by the same studios in the Coromandel coast which were producing textiles for the markets of Europe and South-East Asia. . Kanaat | क़नात | قنات is an Urdu term for a textile panel often hand-painted or hand-printed. Historically used in the Indian subcontinent, these Kanaats inspired the growth of printed fabrics in the Indian subcontinent and other parts of Asia and Europe. . . . Curated by Mrs Ritu Kumar with text and scenography by @mayankmansinghkaul

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The word kanaat refers to textile panels which were used to create walls, screens, and tents over centuries in the Indian subcontinent. Historically, many of these were meant for furnishings, interiors, and architecture. Forming travelling palaces, garden pavilions and scared spaces, they reflected the outstanding genius of Indian dyers, artists, and printers which developed in the Indian subcontinent over centuries. They conjured celebratory worlds of flora and fauna with the use of exceptional colours, fabrics, techniques and skills, producing masterpieces which remain unparalleled. Made for both local markets and for export, such patterned textile further inspired the growth of printed fabric in other parts of Asia and Europe.

3. What sets your home furnishings apart from your clothing line? And what are its similarities?

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Details from #KanaatByRituKumar. . The Above setup is an artistic recreation of a wealthy European Salon in the 18th century featuring luxuriously patterned furnishings reminiscent of Jamawar shawls of Kashmir. Jamawar shawls had a unique design repertory including patterns of curling vines, stylised trees with motifs of the almond fruit, the cypress tree and Chinar leaves. The Jamawar shawls were made using a tapestry weave called Kanni and featured hundreds of differently coloured threads, creating an unmatched kaleidoscope. These shawls caught the imagination of Europe and created an unparalleled demand resulting in the production of mechanised replicas in the towns of Lyon, France and Paisley, Scotland. Over time, the patterns from these replica shawls were translated into block prints, and today are printed in myriad ways forming the basis of a large number of print designs from Italy and France. They are referred to, sadly, as the Paisley far from their original sensibilities and origin. . Kanaat | क़नात | قنات is an Urdu term for a textile panel often hand-painted or hand-printed. Historically used in the Indian subcontinent, these Kanaats inspired the growth of printed fabrics in the Indian subcontinent and other parts of Asia and Europe. . . . Curated by Mrs Ritu Kumar with text and scenography by @mayankmansinghkaul

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They’re home furnishings for one thing! And, not all these wall hangings etc. lend themselves for clothes. They were never really meant so much for clothes, as they were meant for Kanaat or wall hangings. There are certain languages in a piece of fabric on the wall, which does not necessarily have much to do with garments. But, it definitely has more to do with home furnishings, for which these were created originally.

I don’t see any similarities between them. The Jamawar shawl is a shawl. Sometimes, it is created into a coat etc., but the similarity ends there. Otherwise, we’re talking about the design itself.

4. We often see traditional elements in your collections. Why so?

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#Kanaat – An exhibition on the diverse historical traditions of hand-painted and printed Indian Textiles, curated by Mrs. Ritu Kumar with scenography and text by @mayankmansinghkaul Mayank Mansingh Kaul. . This exhibition culminated with the launch of a capsule collection of home furnishings inspired by historical painted and printed textiles of India . Kanaat | क़नात | قنات is an Urdu term for a textile panel often hand-painted or hand-printed. Historically used in the Indian subcontinent to create diverse structures like travelling palaces, garden pavilions and sacred spaces. Exceptionally decorated by master craftsmen, these Kanaats inspired the growth of printed fabrics in the Indian subcontinent and other parts of Asia and Europe.

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I think we have the richest history of textile art in the world. I always go back to it, and I never seem to have finished locating something very exciting and interesting.

5. Lately, sustainable fashion and eco-furnishings is the trend, and shoppers are becoming more conscious of their buys. How are you incorporating sustainability in your labels?

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Announcing #Kanaat – An exhibition on the diverse historical traditions of hand-painted and printed Indian Textiles, curated by Mrs. Ritu Kumar with scenography and text by @mayankmansinghkaul Mayank Mansingh Kaul. . The exhibition is on view from 12th-13th December 2019  11 am to 5 pm  The Ritu Kumar Store, M4, South Extension, Part 2, New Delhi . A special-edition of home furnishings inspired by historical textiles will be on display 12th December onwards. . Kanaat | क़नात | قنات is an Urdu term for a textile panel often hand-painted or hand-printed. Historically used in the Indian subcontinent to create diverse structures like travelling palaces, garden pavilions and sacred spaces. Exceptionally decorated by master craftsmen, these Kanaats inspired the growth of printed fabrics in the Indian subcontinent and other parts of Asia and Europe. . #KanaatByRituKumar #indiantextiles #antiquetextiles #comingsoon #ritukumarhome #ritukumar #event #exhibition #New Delhi

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Everything that I use tends to be of a hand nature, and very rarely mechanised — both, in its concept and sometimes in its execution. But, there is an earthiness and organic stream behind all of it. I think because of that, it lends itself to rooted concepts, and not so much to nylon and synthetics.

6. Where do you travel to seek inspiration for your work?

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Above is an archival example of a Kanni Shawl at #KanaatByRituKumar. An exhibition on the diverse historical traditions of hand-painted and printed Indian Textiles, curated by Mrs. Ritu Kumar with scenography and text by @mayankmansinghkaul Mayank Mansingh Kaul. . The Kashmir Shawls known both as Jamawar and Kanni were incorporated with indigenous motifs of curling vines, stylised cypress trees, almond fruit and chinar leaves in a myriad of vibrant and harmonious colours. . These were woven in the Kashmir Valley by master craftsmen using pashmina on a handloom. The weaving technique was called Kanni, a form of tapestry weave unparalleled to the rest of the world. Today only a small fraction of weavers possess the skill to weave a Kashmiri Kanni Jamawar. . In its heyday, the fabled Kanni Shawls were feverishly coveted by the royalty and aristocracy both in India and abroad. Such was the popularity of these shawls that these were being replicated using the new mechanized looms in Paisley,Scotland. These cost only a fraction of the hand-made Jamawars and thus stripped the weavers in the valley of their patronage and livelihood. But as with most fads, the demand for these mill made shawls dwindled with time and subsequently died in under a century of its introduction, and with it so did the Kanni weaving in Kashmir. #KanaatByRituKumar #indiantextiles #antiquetextiles #comingsoon #ritukumarhome #ritukumar #event #exhibition #newdelhi

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All over! I’ve been to Paris. I’ve been to all the places (included in the exhibition). I’ve been to Machilipatnam, to Andhra Pradesh, to South India, and to Kolkata multiple times. I travel a lot because you can’t understand textiles without travelling, since they come from all over the country. You cannot sit in an isolated space and work with them.

7. Milan, London, New York, and Paris are considered the fashion capitals of the world. Which one is your favourite, and why?

I go a lot to Paris because most of my work is there. But I would say I prefer Europe because it has a very old textile history. So, I tend to find a lot of things there. I don’t do very modern clothes, so it has to be places which have got a distinct history of textiles.

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