Interviews: Young Artisans in the Tea Hills

by - Friday, February 25, 2011

In this post we feature two of the artisans from the Aranya Natural Dye Unit. The Maiwa team touched down in Munnar (in state of Kerala located in the southern tip of India) after our visits to artisans east of Hyderabad, we scheduled some time with Victoria Vijayakumar and Aranya.

The works being made at Aranya are impressive by any standard, but there is an added element of wonder when one realizes that the artisans at Aranya are physically challenged and so unable to work in the area's largest industry - the tea plantations. In an effort to provide suitable employment for these individuals Tata Tea runs the Aranya Natural Dye Unit, a jam factory, and a paper making facility.

During our visit we interviewed two of the artisans who had come up with great innovations.

Shree Kala Devi in front of her tree of life, made with nui shibroi.

Shree Kala Devi
Working with nui shibori to create figurative work.

About five years ago Shree Kala Devi was working in the papermaking facility where she did some of the stitching for the book signatures. She had previous sewing experience and really enjoyed working with needle and thread. Taking the initiative herself, she approached Aranya about doing some of the stitching for the shibori dyeing. What does she like best about her work? "I like that you don’t know exactly what the pattern will look like until it comes out."

Her favourite piece is the one she is photographed with above. How did she come up with the idea? "I was told about the idea of the "tree of life" which shows up in embroidery and painting. I began to think about trees in this way and I wanted to do something like that with shibori, but I didn't want to copy another design. I wanted to make something not exactly like anything I had seen before."

How does she feel when she does her work? "Proud and happy. I feel that, even though I have a disability, I can do something very valuable."

What is her favourite thing to do at Aranya? "Shibori. Shibori. Shibori."

What would she like to do in the future? "I would like very much to work with the image of a peacock. I think it would look very nice with shibori technique."

Arumugam stands in front of some "aru shibori".
Working with arashi shibori (his variation on this technique is known to us as "aru shibori" because it is named after him.)

Arumugam has been working in the Aranya Natural Dye Unit for over ten years. He is familiar with all the shibori techniques that Aranya does and has shown a very strong design imagination. The three pieces shown behind him were all done using "aru shibori."

How did he come up with this variation on the shibori technique? "In 2005 we had a class in shibori and itajime, taught by Japanese shibori artist Yoshiko Wada. I saw what could be done and I wanted to make other designs. I decided to use bamboo sticks because the bamboo is very smooth and so when you crumple the cloth the threads do not stick on the wood.

How does the work make him feel? "I can see in my mind how changes to the shibori might alter the finished cloth. It makes me feel proud to come up with variations that everyone likes and can be used for the Aranya shawls and scarves."

Arumugam also says that shibori is his favourite part of working at Aranya. What are his hopes for the future? "I want to design more patterns and I think I would very much enjoy designing my my own blocks."

aru shibori
See our complete selection of Aranya scarves in the main store, or we have a limited selection available online.

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