With its debut at the ongoing 15th edition of India Art Fair in New Delhi, the Chanakya School of Craft blurs the lines between art and craft. At three booths, where the creations presented by the school stand testimony to the essence of creativity, geographical boundaries seem to fade away too.
At booth I01, the school features six artworks from the Belong series, including four large-scale handcrafted works and two sculptures. The series has been created by the school’s creative director Karishma Swali, who co-founded luxury bridal brand Jade with Monica Shah and contemporary line Moonray with daughter Avantika Swali. In March, last year, the 25-year partnership between Maria Grazia Chiuri and Karishma Swali resulted in the Dior Fall 2023 couture show in Mumbai. The booth also houses two works curated by contemporary French artist Eva Jospin in collaboration with the school. Three more pieces from the collaboration are presented at the Galleria Continua booth E04.
Further, The Chanakya School of Craft and The French Institute in India teamed up with the Basu Foundation and Galerie Lelong Paris to bring French-Cameroonian visual artist Barthélémy Toguo’s three artworks at the Villa Swagatam’s booth number L02.
“The decision to bring these artworks to the fair was prompted by the desire to share the profound message of inter-connectedness and belonging with a wider audience and to celebrate the role of craft in preserving cultural heritage,” says Karishma.
A sense of belonging
Karishma’s Belong series draws inspiration from the transformative power of Nature, exploring the eternal connection between humans and the natural world. “The process of creating these artworks integrated interdisciplinary approaches to unite real and metaphysical worlds. Artisans meticulously layered hand-spun yarns, needlepoint techniques — like couching, bullion knots and stem stitch — and created hand-moulded soft sculptures using bamboo, papier-mâché, and jute which serve as a tribute to the resilient spirit of femininity and add depth to the series through their tactile presence,” she states.
Though each artwork in the series carries its own significance, Karishma says Belong II, 2023 commands special attention. “This piece, with its dimensions of 335 x 213 centimetre, embodies the essence of the series with its intricate layering of handwoven silk, organza, khadi, jute, and linen. It serves as a focal point for contemplating the connection between humans and Nature,” explains Karishma.
A dozen female graduates from the Chanakya School of Craft and 27 master artisans collectively worked on these pieces. “One crafted work took close to 6,000-18,000 hours to make, depending on the size. Collectively, the entire series took close to eight months to complete,” she adds.
The French connection
Over the years, the Chanakya School of Craft has collaborated with French artist Eva, known for her mystical cardboard sculptures that intricately detail sections of forests in bas-relief. The preservation of beauty, diversity of Nature and excellence of savoir-faire lie at the heart of the collaboration, which has birthed artworks titled Constantine Rocher, Constantine Treillis Vertical, Forest, Grotto and Miramar. Both Forest and Grotto are housed in the booth where Karishma’s Belong series are exhibited. Karishma and the artisans of Chanakya School of Craft have employed over 150 variations of different embroidery techniques and more than 400 shades of organic silk, linen, cotton and jute threads to interpret different aspects of the landscape.
The French Institute in India’s Villa Swagatam residency programme, which encourages exchanges between French artists and Indian craftspeople, the Basu Foundation and Galerie Lelong & Co. Paris New York unveiled the installation Water Matters by Barthélémy, Karishma and the artisans of the Chanakya School of Craft.
The series comprises three artworks — Water Matters, Water No Get and River of Dreams. Named after the series, Water Matters displays a five-metre-long embroidery representing a man receiving and offering water in front of a table with hundreds of engraved bottles filled with water from all over the world. The interdisciplinary crafted works make use of raw organic threads and fine needle techniques such as stem stitch, back stitch, and micro-French knots to achieve an ink spread similar to that found in the paintings.
“The collaboration with Barthélémy, Galleria Continua and Eva highlights the series’ interdisciplinary nature and its ability to transcend geographical boundaries. These partnerships play a crucial role in the curation and exhibition of the series, bringing together diverse perspectives and artistic practices to create a truly immersive experience,” says Karishma.
The show will be on display till February 4.