When a man knocked on her door, Anita Reddy invited him in and offered him food, thinking him a beggar. Though starving, he refused, offering her instead one of his hand-painted textiles, and told of how kalamkari artisans like himself were being crushed by middle men exploiting their skills for very little pay. Organize! she thought. Anita was no stranger to the poverty of Bangalore, having worked to rehabilitate over 600 slums in her city into strong and self-reliant communities.
Now a new adventure called to her. Anita jumped at the challenge and began her second non-profit, calling it Dwaraka.(Development of Weavers and Rural Artisans in Kalamkari Art).
When I first encountered this craft in South India, not far from Anita's home, I was gobsmacked by the boldness of painting freehand on cloth in designs complex and intricate. I could hardly believe the execution, the artistry, the skill. And on that luscious Indian cotton - one of my favorite things in the world.
Stemming from two Persian words meaning pen and craft, kalamkari in Andhra Pradesh has been for centuries work for men; but when Anita got involved, she reached out to the masters of the craft and asked them to teach 25 young women.
So that when we came to designing our Ibu World Dress, I couldn't help but imagine how a piece hand-painted from this tradition would sing!
After an introduction to the group at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, we contacted Anita who enthusiastically agreed to this challenge, choosing seven of her finest artisans to work on the Ibu World Dress. I saw a lotus at the heart, a fully blooming lotus - you know, the kind with roots that grows from the deep muck and rise to blossom on water's still surface - long making it a symbol of strength amid adversity.
Using natural dyes, the artisans worked hard to achieve the watery background we wanted for summer; after rounds of back and forth, we received a plump, radiant lotus rising at the heart on perfect lake blue.
I can't begin to say what a joy it is for me to see these images of the Ibu World Dress in progress. What a joy to know that this challenge excited the artisans, elevated them, that the dress became a blooming pride in their work. That's the lotus I want to see. Rising, rising from the dark places - the mud and the mire of what life has given them - and blossoming forth from those roots into powerful, radiant self-authority. A jewel in the lotus. Petals opening everywhere.
All the Best,
Susan Hull Walker