The humble t-shirt is something you may not be expecting to see in this exhibition. However, throughout The Fabric of India, alongside the many splendid and awe-inspiring objects we have incorporated some everyday textiles with engaging stories.
For the exhibition, I have chosen a hand block-printed t-shirt with a design entitled ‘The Disappearing tiger’.
People Tree is a small shop in New Delhi’s Connaught Circus. Here you will find piles of hand block printed t-shirts, shirts, sun dresses, fabric bags and other interesting things. It is run by a group of people who are drawn together by their desire to bring a sense of social purpose to their creativity, to make products that are unique and not mass produced. They have been operating since 1991 and have become part of the urban scene, selling cult items that appeal to like-minded creative souls, students and those looking for an alternative aesthetic.
People Tree work with Bindaas Collective to produce some of their range of products. Bindaas was founded by Meeta and Sunny, and is now run by Meeta, with the aim of preserving the traditional process of natural printing and dyeing and applying them to contemporary imagery that is humorous, graphic and classic. They have collaborated with Chaubundi block printing studio in Kaladera, Rajasthan, for many years building a strong relationship with the artisans and developing a new language of working with block printing. As Meeta says:
“Part of the fun of working in rural India has been bridging the difference between art and craft with the artisan. When the actual printer prints, traditionally his skill lies in duplicating each and every impression in the exact same way. When we print our t-shirts and fabrics, we often play with the lay out and print it differently each time. In this design of People Tree’s, each t-shirt will look a little different since the placement of the tiger can vary. The printers who have worked with us are famous in the village within the printer community for having the ability to print same-same when it is needed and with a variation when needed. Any new printer who starts working with us takes some time to acquire this skill. Initially they are often frozen and one has to literally hold their hand and place on the fabric. Since there is no ‘correct’ position, just an aesthetically pleasing placement, and different each time, without the pattern they are used to creating, it takes time for them to learn this way of working.”
The tiger block was designed by Orijit Sen and he says:
“This t-shirt was designed by me for People Tree in 2008 or 2009, during one of our regular production schedules with Bindaas Collective, at the Chaubundi block printing studio. The tiger block itself was designed by me back in the late 90s as a standalone design. In 2008, I decided to interplay the tiger motif with a graphic arrangement of geometrical stripes, by deploying a simple masking technique that is commonly used by hand-block printers to match lines that have to meet at perpendicular corners. The printing and dyeing was done entirely at Chaubundi studio, co-ordinated and supervised by Bindaas. ‘The Disappearing Tiger’ has been popular, and is also one of my personal favourites. We still do re-runs of it from time to time!”
Meeta explains one of the pitfalls that often befalls a successful design: “Once an export company saw the design and liked it so much they bought a sample from People Tree and tried to duplicate it. Of course they wanted all the pieces to look exxxxactly the same and went nuts. They made eight blocks of the tiger against our one!!! No printer can print a t-shirt with eight blocks so they ended up screen printing it…..We love that each piece we make is unique.”
The tiger in our t-shirt is seen as if it is walking through trees. This sense of motion, humour and contemporary graphics is what differentiates the work of the Bindaas Collective from that of many other companies. The process of learning to incorporate inconsistencies and imperfections into the design is part of the aesthetic that has made their t-shirts and everyday garments popular. The inspiring story of their production process and work with artisans in Kaladera can be found in ‘Threads and Voices’ edited by Laila Tyabji, a Marg publication, 2007.
A selection of their prints are presented below- all are used courtesy of Bindaas Collective: