On the Banks of the Ichhamati

by - Thursday, July 02, 2009

2009 Maiwa Textile Symposium
On the Banks of the Ichhamati
Bappaditya Biswas

Presented and Introduced by Bappaditya Biswas

A Special Exhibition of Hand-woven Art Pieces Depicting the Story of the Blue Mutiny.

The Ichhamati River (the name translates as whimsical or wishful) unites the two Bengals (now West Bengal and Bangladesh). Under the rising sun of the British Raj, indigo cultivation in this floodplain grew and became one of the most important items of trade for the East India Company.

So profitable was the crop that peasant farmers were forced to plant indigo rather than food. The result was a devastating famine that turned the fertile lands into killing fields: the famous Blue Mutiny. Indigo became a symbol of both colonial oppression and of anti-colonial resistance.

Maiwa is pleased to host an installation of “On the Banks of the Ichhamati.” Conceived by Bappaditya Biswas and Bai Lou studio, the exhibition is a unique combination of traditional weave structures and contemporary forms. The exhibit tells of the journey of the Bengal handloom weavers and is a celebration of Bengal textiles.

Bappa's original weavings will also be available for sale.


Bappaditya Biswas (Bappa) studied batik, wood block printing, and textile design to complement his love of weaving. While he was still a student, his natural facility at the loom caught the attention of many and he was sponsored to attend the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia.

Wandering the streets of the USA, looking into shops, attending museums exhibits, and interacting with other artists, he became convinced that Indian craft had a great and unexplored potential.

At the same time the weavers outside Kolkata were pushing Bappa to find markets for the projects they had tried. With encouragement from the weavers, his own vision, and the support of his future wife, Rumi, Bappa left his job and started Bai Lou Studio.

“I started going to the village and staying there to work on ideas and designs. Sometimes I had to sit on the loom and show them what I wanted. Sometimes while watching them weave, a lot of ideas would creep into my head. It became a very interactive platform. Rumi would come in every evening after her work and inevitably get pulled into Bai Lou’s work. Bai Lou has benefited from her clarity of thought – especially in financial matters.”

Bai Lou specializes in hand weaves and techniques like jamdani (extra weft), double and triple cloths (extra warps), fine and coarse cotton muslins, and plain tabby weave. The ability to weave different textures and fabrics has been combined with the much bigger responsibility of keeping alive the tradition of weaving. Bai Lou has been awarded the UNESCO Seal of Excellence for Handcrafts.

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