Indian Lettering meets the Silk Route
India’s world famous tradition of sign painting and lettering was the main incentive for graphic designer and typographer Verena Gerlach from Berlin to spend two months in the Goethe bangaloREsidency summer 2014, hosted by the startup and co working space Jaaga. Initially, Verena conceptualised a poster series based on the needs and desires of young women from the weaker economic section of Indian society. Based on this lettering, she decided to delve even deeper into the world of Indian decorative craft, adding punch to her already powerful designs.
Along her long and colourful research route, Verena visited the silk city Ramanagaram, where she documented all stages of silk production and met people involved in the production. She also came in contact with the young women participating in an IIMB (Indian Institute of Management Bangalore) initiative, to impart training in the craft of embroidery (which is normally a very male-oriented profession), and the Minchu Accessories group which runs a little embroidery business. Thus was born the idea to work with this very traditional technique and these skilled craftswomen to produce the typographic “posters”.
Starting with raw silk, Verena worked with the craftworkers to embellish posters with words from hand-painted Kannada and English shop signs and ornament them with beads and sequins. She also documented the entire silk-production process in photographs.
You can find a very detailed report with lots of great images on this project here.
Raw silk cloth, recycled silk, thread, sequins, 70 x 180 cm
For Europeans, the city of Oxford, UK, still symbolises the highestgrade of education.
Lakshmi/Laxmi (the Hindu Goddess of wealth, love, prosperity, fortune, and embodiment of beauty) is the most popular word in the shop letterings of Bangalore and Ramanagaram. It is like the joker in the pack.
The combination of both words highlights the importance of education in Indian society. It is the most important aspect of life for young girls (later young mothers) of the lower castes to break the circle of poverty and hopelessness.
Raw silk cloth, recycled silk, thread, sequins, beads
70 x 180 cm
The craft of embroidery enhances the value of any textile, so one can call it the most important craft (step) for example in saree production, because it “pimps up“ even more the already beautiful cloth.
Note: this is the only scarf embroidered by men and not the Minchu Group.
New Steel Sweets
Raw silk cloth, recycled silk, thread, sequins
70 x 150 cm
Indian women have to be very strong. Physically and mentally. But they are also (still) expected to be shy, beautiful, elegant and sweet. From a foreigner’s point of view, a very demanding combination.
CHAMKI REMIX — EXHIBITION CUM SALE
The exhibition format at Rangoli Metro Art Centre, on June 1st 2014, also included a pop-up store, where the Minchu Group displayed and sold their embroidered accessories. The unique poster-stoles, Verena’s photo-documentation of the embroidery process, her research on silk production, and the beautiful shop letterings she discovered in Bangalore and Ramanagaram were also on display.
The exhibition design and decor is inspired by india’s colourful street shops, markets and temples.
The town, about 50 km south-west of Bangalore is famous for its silk (cocoon) market and silk industry, earning it the other name of Silk City.
Since silk production entails killing the worm, it is—for religious reasons—mainly Muslims and Dalits who live and work there.
Costs of living calculation
At Rs. 8 (10 ct.), a small banana is realtively expensive. In comparison, a silk-sorting worker earns
Rs. 10–15 (12–18 ct.) per hour and has to support a whole household.
Silk is an animal fibre, the product of a series of stages derived from the cultivation of mulberry trees for feed to the propagation of the domesticated silkworm, Bombyx mori. During the caterpillar phase, the worm wraps itself in a liquid protein secreted by two large glands in its head. This secreted protein hardens upon exposure to air.
The resulting filament is bonded by second secretion, sericin, which forms a solid sheath or cocoon.
While trading (the cocoon auction) is mainly a man’s job, a lot of women (and children) work in the reeling and twisting units.
The cocoon is a 300 to 900 metre-long thread of raw silk. The fibres are very fine, about 10 micrometres in diameter. About 2000 to 3000 cocoons (Remember: one worm, one cocoon) make one point of silk.
Silk reeling is the process by which a number of cocoon baves are reeled together to produce a single thread, by unwinding filaments collectively from a group of cooked cocoons at one end in a warm water bath and winding the resultant thread onto a Silk reeling unit with Family and Friends a fast-moving reel.
Silk sorting (from the silk remaining on the saree looms)
Gowramma, 55-60, years old (left) and Kempamma, 35 years old (right) earn Rs. 10 (12 ct) for sorting 1 kg of silk. They sort 10–15 kg per day, 7 days a week.
The silk sorting women are Verena’s personal silk super heroines.
SIGN PAINTING AND GENDER — THE CONCEPT
Found: The most beautiful hand painted shop signs
The signs and letters got remixed to form a new political and gender-related meaning.
LEARNING FROM EACH OTHER
Minchu Accessories was the result of a livelihood-based research project on economically backward women in Ramanagaram. It started out as a collaboration between the Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology, Bangalore and the Apparel Export Promotion Council, Bangalore.
Here, Verena was teaching the group how to see and draw their environment, while Lubna and Rathna were teaching Verena how to do embroidery.
Couched and laid work
Threads, cords or decorative materials such as gold and silver wire are laid upon the surface of the fabric and stitched down with sewing thread. Usually this thread matches the colour of the threads laid down so that it is almost invisible on the finished embroidery. Sometimes, however, the couching is done with different colours so that the stitches themselves are decorative. Outlines are made by laying single threads or groups of threads. Where filling is required the threads are laid side by side covering the whole area to be embroidered. The couching is done with plain stitches or stitches arranged in a decorative pattern.
The chain stitch is a loop stich in which the thread is passed over the point of the needle as it emerges from the bottom of the cloth, to form a loop which is secured by the following stitch.
The colourful recycled silk from the saree looms, fixed with a zig zag stitch forms the bolder outlines.
It is in homage to the hard-working silk sorting women.
Many, many thanks to the great Minchu Group and Rathna.
Especially to my embroidery heroines: Nazia, Reshma, Lubna and Khushbu.
Special thanks to Nithya Joseph and Rebecca John for enabling this fantastic collaboration with the Minchu Group.
My appreciation for the wonderful people at the Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan Bangalore.
Especially Christoph Bertrams, Maureen Gonsalves, Helena Kavsek and Lincy Paravanethu. Thanks to the whole team at Rangoli Metro Art Centre Bangalore for being such supportive hosts of the exhibition.
Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan
716 CMH Road,Indiranagar 1st Stage
Bangalore 560 038 India