French-Indian textile designer brings back Mughal patterns

Gerard Ortiz

Textiles designer Brigitte Singh is seeking to keep alive the Indian artwork of block printing that flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries – Copyright AFP Wakil KOHSAR

Laurence THOMANN

Textiles designer Brigitte Singh lovingly lays out a piece of fabric embossed with a purple poppy plant she states was likely made for emperor Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj Mahal, four generations back.

For Singh — who moved from France to India 42 many years back and married into a maharaja’s family members — this exquisite piece remains the ever-inspiring coronary heart of her studio’s mission.

The 67-yr-aged is striving to retain alive the artwork of block printing, which flourished in the 16th and 17th centuries underneath the conquering but subtle Mughal dynasty that then ruled India.

“I was the to start with to give a renaissance to this form of Mughal layout,” Singh informed AFP in her regular printing workshop in Rajasthan.

Obtaining studied decorative arts in Paris, Singh arrived aged 25 in 1980 in western India’s Jaipur, the “last bastion” of the strategy of employing carved blocks of wood to print patterns on substance.

“I dreamed of practising (miniature art) in Isfahan. But the Ayatollahs had just arrived in Iran (in the Islamic revolution of 1979). Or Herat, but the Soviets experienced just arrived in Afghanistan,” she remembers.

“So by default, I ended up in Jaipur,” she said.

– ‘Magic potion’ –

A few months immediately after arriving, Singh was introduced to a member of the local nobility who was similar to the maharaja of Rajasthan. They married in 1982.

At 1st, Singh even now hoped to try her hand at miniature painting.

But following scouring the city for conventional paper to operate on, she arrived across workshops applying block printing.

“I fell into the magic potion and could never ever go back,” she instructed AFP.

She started by producing just a several scarves, and when she handed by way of London two several years afterwards, gave them as provides to close friends who have been connoisseurs of Indian textiles.

Bowled about, they persuaded her to display them to Colefax and Fowler, the storied British interior decorations firm.

“The upcoming factor I understood, I was on my way again to India with an get for printed textiles,” she reported.

Due to the fact then, she has hardly ever looked back.

– Soul consolation –

For the up coming two decades, she worked with a “family of printers” in the metropolis right before creating her own studio in close by Amber — a stone’s toss from Jaipur’s famed fort.

It was her father-in-regulation, a major collector of Rajasthan miniatures, who gave her the Mughal-period poppy cloth linked to Shah Jahan.

Her replica of that print was a big accomplishment the environment in excess of, proving in particular well-known with Indian, British and Japanese clientele.

In 2014, she manufactured a Mughal poppy print quilted coat, called an Atamsukh — indicating “comfort of the soul” — that was later acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

One more piece of her get the job done is in the collection of the Metropolitan Artwork Museum in New York.

– ‘Sophistication of simplicity’ –

Singh starts off her artistic approach by handing precise paintings to her sculptor, Rajesh Kumar, who then painstakingly chisels the patterns onto blocks of wooden.

“We want a extraordinary sculptor, with a extremely serious eye,” she mentioned.

“The carving of the wooden blocks is the critical. This resource has the sophistication of simplicity.”

Kumar tends to make numerous similar blocks for every single colour employed in every single printed material.

“The poppy motif, for case in point, has 5 colours. I had to make 5 blocks,” he stated. “It took me 20 times.”

At Singh’s workshop, six workforce do the job on parts of cloth laid out on tables 5 metres (16 ft) prolonged.

They dip the blocks in dye, place them carefully on the fabric, push down and tap.

The function is sluggish and intricate, creating no far more 40 metres of materials each and every working day.

Her workshop would make anything from quilts to curtains and rag dolls to shoes.

Singh just finished another Atamsukh for a prince in Kuwait.

“The significant issue is to maintain the know-how alive,” she claimed.

“More precious than the solution, the authentic treasure is the savoir faire.”

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