Press Release


Shelly Jyoti revisits Gandhian philosophies through multi-media artworks using khadi textile, ajrakh fibres and kantha embroidery to talk about swadeshi, swadharma and swaraj: At Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi, Oct 20 to Oct 25, 2016


New Delhi: The life and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi has inspired many creative visionaries in popular culture through the years, but if someone has made really made his ideals the very essence of their art practice, it has to be Delhi-based visual artist Shelly Jyoti. Known for her textile-based art installations that have focused on the Gandhian ideals of swardharma, swadeshi and swaraj time and again in both national and international shows, Jyoti is now bringing to the Capital a solo show titled The Khadi March: Just Five Meters at the Visual Arts Galley, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi from October 20 to October 26, 2016, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

In the current show, Jyoti uses khadi both as a symbol and as a material that expresses qualities of self-purification, self-reliance and independence. The exhibition is designed to be really a study for those who want to understand what the khadi movement stands for, and what it has been able to do. In The Khadi March: Just Five Meters, Jyoti considers how contemporary society might engage in swadharma towards the nation in order to create a better society. She considers that simply by buying five yards of khadi, India’s thirty crore urban population can transform the lives of rural spinners, weavers, and traditional artisans by enriching their livelihood.

With an educational background in literature and fashion design, Jyoti’s passion for Gandhi’s philosophy of khadi and non-violence has found artistic form through her collaborations with Ajrakh artisans from Kutch in northwest India and with West Bengal’s women artisans specializing in Kantha embroidery. “The current exhibition is a call to action that challenges people who live in urban cities to grant dignity to the rural brethren and to rethink our engagement with the spinners, weavers and people who work with handicrafts in the villages.”

To create these artworks, Jyoti has worked extensively with 10th generation Ajrakh textile artisans based in Bhuj, Gujarat. Utilising printing blocks that are two to three hunderd years old,

Jyoti’s individual pieces draw attention to a shared history whose preservation is currently threatened by the forces of globalization. “While working with those who have inherited and are passing on our textile traditions, I have been able to consider the critical relationship between the materials and traditional processes used in Ajrakh production, the role of artisan as a maker and role of artist as a visualizer. The khadi artworks have been made using the fiber and natural dyes of Ajrakh traditions.”

She also uses the traditional running stitch from West Bengal called kantha in her textile artworks to explore the creative space of women of Bengal who have migrated to Delhi and NCR in last one decade. “I engage these women to give them small jobs and explore their inherent talent. Running stitch has also a decorative and aesthetic appeal.”

The featured works include several khadi site-specific installations, 20 Ajrakh textile artworks, a multi-media spoken poetry art and a documentary of Ajrakh textile process. Using khadi as the ground for processes of traditional dyeing and embroidery like Ajrakh, Jyoti’s images employ symbolic forms with sumptuously decorated surfaces to illuminate aspects of India’s long and complex history.

Ajrakh, is a unique process of block printing found in India’s earliest settlements, still practiced in northwest India and Pakistan, particularly in the city of Bhuj, where Jyoti travels to create her work. Using traditional natural pigments, dyes and printing blocks of both ornate and minimal geometric shapes and patterns, she skillfully combines individual components into a complex whole. Her deceptively simple designs provide a generous space for the luxuriously printed patterns to be fully appreciated.

The Yarn Wheel is a site-specific installation made up of 1000 bunches of handspun cotton yarn capturing the meditative process of the spinning wheel in stark contrast to machine made thread. Jyoti explains, “Upliftment of villages has been the core philosophy of Gandhi’s concept of nation building, and the wheel reflects the upward movement from fulfilling basic needs to societal growth and achievement of salvation in context of Indian philosophy of self-purification, moral regeneration and secular tolerance.”

Connecting Gandhi’s Nation is another site-specific installation made up of Contemporary Blouses, Ajrakh Gandhi caps, Ajrakh stoles, Sculptured buttons and Ajrakh samplers. “I am exploring the role of clothing as a movement for social change. I am trying to explore the idea of khadi as a visual expression of national identity and also as a commodity in 21st century to give spinners and weavers a more organized source of livelihood. The idea of consumption of hand-woven handspun cloth by urban people is to establish connect between urban and rural brethren. This title of this installation is inspired by Lisa Trivedi’s book “Clothing Gandhi’s Nation’.”

Just Five Yards is a site-specific installation made up of 9 khadi hand bags inspired by Gandhi’s quote in Young India wherein each bag with the logo of ‘Just five yards’ articulates the spirit of swadharma towards our nation, while Decolonizing khadi hand towels will be created on site using over 12 khadi towels hanging on a fish net. “This work is inspired by a khadi bulletin titled ‘To whom will you give’ published in 1931. The image suggested that there was only one answer for India and Indians, rather than giving one’s money to British industry, one should contribute to the livelihood of village Indians and thus become, as Rosalind Williams would put it, ‘a moral consumer’ building a national community. By the turn of century and after seven decades of our independence, the direct foreign market investments have captured the urban Indians minds for their products. I am expanding the idea of using khadi towels, easy to use and of great textile quality, to foster the idea of swadeshi in order to support weavers and spinners in rural India.”

Speaking about the works titled Flag series, she says: “The four flags feature the chakras with different patterns of ajrakh printing and dyeing and then needle work embellished to highlight the spokes. As an artist, my idea of creating these ‘Flag series’ were to get the symbolic idea of charkha and spinning wheel by retouching history.”

Among the Ajrakh textile artworks, there are wall pieces titled Lend A Hand (a diptych work exploring the idea for lending support to weavers and artisans in rural India), Timeless Silhouettes: Angrakhas & Timeless Silhouettes: Blouses (documenting Azrakh patterns and styles worn by Indian women of India in the 21st century) among other works.

Her multi-media video presentation will have 143 lines of spoken poetry written by her after her visit to Dandi in 2013, as an appeal to inspire the urban population to pause and think about their ‘swadharma’ towards their nation.


This exhibition is in part supported by Khadi & Village Industries Commission and YES Institute

For further media enquiries: Pl contact Poonam Goel @ 9811143131