Review - The Art of Ajrakh

by - Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Traditional block printers Jabbar and Adam Khatri took a rapt audience through the history and development of their craft. It was one of those evenings when one feels privileged to be part of a larger world - in this case that world is printed on cloth using hand-carved wooden blocks and natural dyes. Creatively this art is one of the most remarkable and eloquent ways to pattern cloth.

The evening was introduced by Liberty Erickson who recalled her own visit to the Dhamadka studio in order to set the scene. Here is her evocative text:

Good evening everyone, and welcome to the Art of Ajrakh lecture. Tonight we will transport you into the world of Ajrakh block printing; a tradition that has existed for hundreds years.

Jabbar and Adam Khatri are the 9th and 10th generation of block printers. It was Jabbar's father, Mahammad Sidik, who saw that traditional knowledge would be lost if he did not teach his children. Each of those children Razak, Ismail, and Jabbar has gone on to become a master craftsman and enjoy international recognition for their work.

Jabbar has participated in exhibitions in Europe, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, not to mention numerous exhibitions and fashion shows within India. Now his son Adam is also seeing that all over the world there is great respect for Ajrakh, and for traditional dyeing and printing techniques. 

Like many of you I have fallen captive to the beauty and the magic of ajrakh cloth. From the radiant colours to the intricate designs, one can only stop and think WOW this cloth must have a story; and it does…

In 2015 I was given the opportunity to assist Charllotte on her textile tour in India.Tonight I would like to share an excerpt from my journal of my first experience in Damadka and when I truly learnt what ajrak feels like.

“Today we arrived in Damadka.

As we all stepped off the bus I was met with an incredible heat unlike anything I had felt before … and I thought…”only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun…” and of course … enthusiastic textile lovers. 

A smiling bearded man greeted us, later I learnt he was Jabbar Khatri. As he ushered us in, I became more and more lost in the sights and sounds of this place. The rhythm of the men washing, fabric-twisting, and slapping large pieces of cotton on the sides of giant stone basins.

**Sllllaaap…woosh slllaaaaap woosh” rinsing and slapping…twiiiisting and slapping

The smell of a sweet and smokey fire rising up from under the dye pots.

And In the distance I could see loooong strips of cloth drying on the desert ground, that ground stained with blues and reds…the echos of so many lengths of cloth that had been placed here before.

We continued to where the block printers were pounding and tapping. It was something like: thump tap tap tap thump …  Thump tap tap tap thump…that sound became the pattern upon the cloth on the table…that same cloth I saw drying in the sun just behind us…I realized that this sound was ubiquitous throughout the entire space.

Thump thump tap tap thump thump tap tap… pounding thumping and tapping patterns. Like a sacred morse code telling me a story … the story of the life of ajrakh cloth.

Yes! HERE the cloth seems alive.

All of this is alive.

Now back in Vancouver I realize this cloth is no longer just a bed sheet or a table cloth…but an experience…alive and full of history that has transcended so many generations.

You see, all of the sights and sounds are held within it’s patterns  Every time I hold a piece of ajrakh in my hands I am transported back to Damadka.

Tonight this experience will be passed on to you…through Jabbar and Adam who have travelled far to be here and share with you the story of their family, the story of their ajrakh… 

Liberty Ericson

Inspired? Check out our October Lectures. 

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