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Fishes of change

Published : Sep 19, 2019, 12:15 am IST
Updated : Sep 19, 2019, 12:15 am IST

Artist Shelly pays homage to the Gandhian way with artwork on khadi using the ajrakh technique.

Soul Force
 Soul Force

Mahatma Gandhi may be no more but his ideology of “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” is still alive. And so are his ideologies of truth and Swaraj.

A Delhi-based, artist Shelly Jyoti explores these Gandhian principles, through her recent collection ‘Bound by Duty: An Idea of Swaraj and Collectiveness’. Her artwork comprises the use of the khadi textile and the ajrakh technique of printing and dyeing, and she uses fish as a constant motif.


In a chat with Shelly, she explains the reason behind the  use of khadi, explaining, “Talking of India’s freedom struggle, it was very natural for me to use khadi. But it was my usage of an 8-ply yarn that give the artistic look.” She reveals that the inspiration for her collection is inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s book Hind Swaraj. “My work as an artist sits in on how to create better societies,” she adds.

She is a great believer of a quote by Gandhi which goes as, “Instead of giving three paise to the spinner and weaver, give them three annas and that would mean Swaraj to them.” The motif used in these collection for swaraj, is fish. She explains, “When fish school together, they bring oceanic currents and turbulence. If fish can bring turbulence and change in the water, we can also bring change.” Her collection revolves around the idea of ‘Swadharma’ which means self-rule and collectivism.

Creating artwork on textile involves intricate and tedious procedures. She describes the ajrakh technique as complicated and continues, “When you are doing ajrakh, you have to go to the craftsmen because it is their technique and I have my vision.” The process involves preparing  the works on sheets and then the blocking is done by the craftsmen. She adds, “If even for a split second my attention goes somewhere else, the whole concept changes. Whereas, as an artist, when you are doing it yourself, you can manage it.”


Ajrakh, although a laborious technique, is interestingly used in Pakistan as well. But she points out, “If you look at the ajrakh there and the ajrakh here, there is a difference because the colour and the dye we use are mineral-based. I feel Indian ajrakh is richer than anywhere else.” This technique is almost 4,000 years old and has survived the test of time.

It is fair to say that using the ajrakh and khadi is an exploration in itself. She says, “I’m on my own journey. I am trying to find an idea of self-purification and, in that journey, I connect with Gandhi’s philosophy.”  

The artist says that she is expressing Swaraj and she is not bothered about what the market thinks. “I am not driven by market responses. I am driven by what I strongly feel,” she says.

— The collection is a part of the exhibition, currently ongoing at IIC till September 27.

Tags: mahatma gandhi, shelly jyoti