Weaving Stories: Artists in collaboration with Gandhi Ashrams (Part 4)

About ‘Weaving Stories’

Aaron Sinift (b’66) is an artist living and working in Beacon, NY. He has a BFA in painting from University of Iowa (96′) and an MFA from Boston University. He instigated the 5 Year Plan project 5 Year Plan.org to engage with Gandhi ashram khadi collectives to deepen his understanding of life in India from the perspective of Gandhi service, which he found to be life changing. He lives with Greta Byrum and 4 year old son Orion.

“Weaving Stories: Artists in collaboration with Gandhi Ashrams” is to be published as an article in the forthcoming book Freedom of the Presses: Artists’ Book in the 21st. Century. It is a personal reflection. It explores how the idea a 5 Year Plan book was conceptualised and how Gandhian ethics and economics underpin the project. It then goes on to present the evolution of the first two books, 5 Year Plan and Other Imaginings.

The Jhola Project, and second book: OTHER IMAGININGS

(continued from Part 3)

On February 2013 we launched the “Jhola Project” on Kickstarter. The idea was simple, for $20 we invited people to chose Gandhi ashram jhola bag printed with artwork by one of 14 selected artists including Francesco Clemente, Yoko Ono, and Donald Baechler. The intention was a subversion of art world commodity value in the service of Gandhi ashrams weaving collectives. People who purchased these jholas received extremely limited editions of woodblock printed artworks by the artist of their choice for next to nothing, and by doing so creating 400 days employment. 500 jholas were made and delivered swiftly and all excess funds were donated directly to the ashram. (look for “Jhola Project” on the 5yearplan.org website). At the same time, Boston University featured our work on the outer cover of their CFA magazine (summer 2013) and commissioned a jhola specifically for the cover photo.

khadi jhola project
Aaron Sinift & Kahkashan Khan purchasing old jholas bags @ Sri Gandhi Ashram,
Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh 2013 (photo: Jitendra Kumar)

Our second book, OTHER IMAGININGS, started almost by chance encounter. I was in Varanasi and contacted a woman named Kahkashan Khan, who worked for World Literacy Canada as a coordinator & teacher, and is a Gandhian activist. Kahkashan brought her hew husband Jitendra Kumar, a charming young man I instantly liked, and after a bit of reintroduction we jumped into a motor rickshaw for Sarnath to visit the Shri Gandhi Ashram in a peaceful section of the village, surrounded by high white walls and made of a series of low white buildings and a few trees and a well. The gate was open and people came in went, the occasional cow lay about in the yard. Once there I enquired about printed jholas (sling bags) and was shown a huge pile of rejected jholas from decades past. We went through each bundle and selected the best examples of each print we could find for the 5 Year Plan project archive.

In conversation with one of the ashram workers we learned that the spinning and weaving happened there, but that the printing happens in the printing facility at the Sri Gandhi Ashram in Akbarpur, about 350 km north of Sarnath. To print about 30 meters of khadi cloth, 3-4 color, making about 150 jhola panels would cost approximately 7,200 rupees ($120.USD). I had $300 left in my travel budget so I suggested to Kahkashan & Jitendra that we print 2 ashram designs on 30 m. khadi as an experiment and the remaining money would comfortably cover the the travel expense of of visiting Akbarpur where they would take lots of pictures and share their impressions with me. The information we got from the ashram was encouraging and started my mind thinking of how to make a book printed by a Gandhi ashram onto their own khadi homespun, as a work of art and artifact (art + fact). in which the medium personifies the message.

weaving stories khadi jholas
OTHER IMAGININGS pg. 28-29; Lisa Beck “Reverberation for Hudson”, wood
block print by Chinmoyee Kala Niketan, Varanasi & J.P.Jaisawal “Qtub Minar”,
screen print by Sri Gandhi Ashram, Akbarpur

Back in New Delhi I reached out to Mr Handa with what I had learned and he shared he shared his vision for a second book, to be called: “OTHER IMAGININGS” (inspired by Yoko Ono’s IMAGINE PEACE), to be block printed, smaller in scale and should be funded by selling one single signed edition to a single collector. Almost immediately I reached out to Frank Williams, a patron of the first book whom I particularly liked and who might enjoy the challenge of our untried experiment (telling him it should only take about 18 months), and he agreed, getting us started on a project that would in the end take almost 4 years, due to developments at home and the birth of our son Orion.

In February 2013 I knew that I would be the at home father of a baby and that I would not be back to India for at least a few years. I told Kahkashan & Jitendra that if this book were to happen it would be solely them in India doing the production, that we would provide all the necessary funds and creative direction but they would have to make the individual decision on the spot. The project paid for their wi-fi connection in their home, project expenses and contributed to the family income, and I designed a profit sharing plan for project participants. The whole thing was based on mutual trust and couldn’t have happened otherwise, and I experienced a vertiginous thing in taking a risk with a handful of strangers that would result in a unique work of collective art, or a humiliating dishonor.

Working with Sri Gandhi Ashram in Akbarpur proved richly rewarding and exasperatingly slow. Kahkashan & Jitendra visited Akbarpur and sent along lots of wonderful photos of their trip, which they seemed to enjoy. This ashram is part of Gandhi’s living legacy, embodying a continuity of service for almost 100 years. They met the printing manager Gulabji and the screen printing crew in their cavernous print workshop, explored the dyeing vats and met the dhobis who must wash the khadi cloth before it is printable, and they had lunch in the ashram canteen taking many pictures of the fire in the kitchen which Gandhiji ignited himself when he founded the ashram in 1920 and which has been kept burning ever since. To eat there, from this fire, was a kind of communion (prasad) for our friends.

(Continued in Part 5)

Featured Image:  Printing Crew at Sri Gandhi Ashram, Akbarpur, U.P. (left to right) Kahkashan Khan, Ram Achal (color matching & printing), Lal Bachan (communications), Ram Charitra Verma (print supervisor), Gulab Chand Sharma (print division director), Mr. J.P. Jaiswal (ashram artist) , Chauthi Ram (screen preparator) 2014 (photo: Jitendra Kumar)

weaving stories 5year plan
5yearplan.org

weaving stories freedom of the presses

Freedom of the Presses: Artists’ Book in the 21st. Century

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