‘Rebirth of Nature’

At work in my studio

At work in my studio

Working with natural dyes is an ancient craft and surely it is an art derived of the earth. The concept of colour in any form was well known even to primitive people and they had the expertise of exploring raw materials from natural sources like plants, animals and mineral matters. They also were successful in the application of technology on different materials like household articles, walls, earthenware, wood and of course textiles.

In the olden days, this particular art was flourishing in our country and it was taken to other countries also. Many artisans were engaged in this art and they were well known for their intricate, labour intensive works. However, the numbers dwindled as synthetic dyes invaded the industry and people no longer cared for this unique art-work. Some artisans nevertheless attached themselves to this work, having learnt it from their elders or from their own interest and some continue this work still. I never attended any formal education in the field of art. While I was learning the technique natural dye processes I tried to apply it in the form of art, particularly on textile materials. Born in a washer-mans family which might have infused the interest in me, I started my career as a printer in a private workshop near Calcutta. I had to develop my own skill and learn about natural dyes whenever it was possible. And, thus I developed my own style and technique, which is simple and seems different to others. I simply apply the colours (which are extracts of natural dyes) on the mordanted portions of the materials or sometimes along with the mordants depending on the shades and tints required at the end.

Usually I like to work on tantric motifs and other related subjects as they attract me very much. At the same time, I find it fascinating to work on the subjects of real life. Different poses of birds (sometimes imaginary ones), cows and other animals are my regular motifs through which I try to depict real life, with specific combinations of colours. Regarding colour application of colour layer by layer with relevant binding mordants depending on the end result required.

And sometimes I find it rather encouraging when I get the appreciation for this, though it leads to some unexpected results also. The colours I prefer mostly are grey to black shades, blues, browns and yellows, which are inevitable in natural dyes as well as red. Greys and blacks are done with ‘black khasis’. Blues are from Indigo blue and Bengal Blue. Yellow and browns are from various sources ranging from Pomegranate rind to Goran tree bark while reds are derived from Manjistha. Application of colour in resist style is one of my other methods. Blue and grey shades give a vast scope for this kind of work as they are cold dip dyeing processes while others require heating.

So, one can find easily a self imposed style and technique being maintained in my work which I christened and developed all these years. Some of the admirers of my work include Shri Marthand Singh; Asha Sarabhai of The Calico Museum, Ahmedabad, Viswa Bharati University, Shantiniketan and Mrs Josseline Monnier, Ambassador of France, New Delhi. I at the same time never hesitate to take suggestion and invite criticism about my works from them. Particularly Shri Marthand Singh and Shri VV Chandramouli have the privelege over me to suggest and guide me in this field with affection.

– Ajit Kumar Das