Kutch textile museum showcases the embroidery tradition of the region
Mumbai-based Matrika Design Collaborative-designed Shrujan Community Gallery One seeks to preserve ancient arts and crafts in the best possible way
Whether it’s nostalgia romanticising the past or an honest appreciation for tradition, now more than ever before, people are realising the need to preserve ancient arts and crafts in the best possible way. In the last 50 years, the not-for-profit organisation Shrujan has been on a similar quest, empowering communities in Kutch by promoting their exquisite embroidery art. Taking this mission a step further, the organisation established the Living and Learning Design Centre (LLDC) in Kutch in order to revitalise and showcase the embroidery tradition of the region.
The LLDC campus is envisioned to house three distinct galleries, designed by Mumbai-based Matrika Design Collaborative – who have developed a penchant for museum and gallery design over the years. “The Shrujan Community Gallery One is developed as a showcase of the embroidery art and crafts from ten distinct communities spread over Kutch, including the nomadic Rabaris and the Halepotras who reside in the arid Banni grasslands to the west,” shares Abhishek Ray, principal, Matrika Design Collaborative.
The Resource Gallery is being based on the institutional research being carried out by Shrujan, while the Inspiration Gallery will house embroidery, textile and other crafts from around the world to inspire craftspersons from the region. Both these galleries are in the process of development.
Completed in 2016, the Community Gallery showcases the heart and soul of the traditional communities through their intricate art. Setting up this canvas meant a hands-on approach, as Ray mentions, “The design story with Shrujan has matured over the last two years, and continues to do so with our work for their new galleries at the LLDC. The initial research process with Shrujan included visits to the villages, documentation of craft forms, embroidery and photography.” Since the gallery serves as an introduction to the centre, a research-based design approach was adopted.
“The final design development happened over a single design Charrette session with our team at the studio. Linear and sequential flow was preferred over a free-flowing visitor movement form, owing to the need of a curated tour of the space,” says Ray. The large column-free space was thoughtfully divided to create a microcosm for each community, displaying both the core collection and the ancillary acquisitions.
“Starting with the history of Kutch, the narrative dwelled upon the art of embroidery, followed by microcosms of community-specific collections housed within the larger environment of socio-cultural research,” explains Ray. “The overall design was kept very brutalist in consonance with the building type and the exhibition of textiles/embroidery. Embroidery from the region is very intricate and is done on colours ranging from bright reds to black. The emphasis remained on showcasing this detail, for which a minimalist and brutalist look became an imperative design parameter.”
The core collections were housed in micro-climatic controlled cases which were designed to control temperature and humidity at all times. The diurnal difference in the environmental attributes was kept low to ensure that the collection doesn’t undergo rapid changes owing to the micro-climate changes by nightfall.
Open grid ceilings with Mondrian inspired raceways define the open format design. Mild steel, stainless steel and boards form the backbone of the materials used for creating spaces inside the gallery. The oculus shaped skylights are used as centres of display for an ensemble of props and dioramas, in order to create foci of interest and to control the exposure of the collections to the variable path of the sun through the day. Traditional art forms such as Lippankam were used in order to create decorative stucco backdrops to the community sections.
One can browse through a wide variety of collections that form an integral part of the embroidery heritage of the various communities from the region. Large-format panels, developed by Shrujan over the years, are housed throughout the gallery, providing a glimpse into the exceptional detailed artwork. Acting as reference panels, visitors can inspect the intricacy of the embroidery, typology of motif, stitches, representational forms and scale. These panels are placed in conjunction with traditional and contemporary apparel designs, making for an interesting study on the craft’s rel-evance in different contexts.
“Matrika Design Collaborative also advised on the devel-opment of Audio Visual Content for the gallery in various formats. The static print format was designed by our office to serve as an ethno-graphic reference in each section,” mentions Ray. Large format and backlit frames provide glimps-es of the artisans behind the embroidery, uniting the art and its maker. Photographs and videos detailing the story behind the collection are incorporated into video stations and dioramas. For an even more interactive experience, visi-tors from the community can access magnified views of the displays, and also get a tactile understanding of the stitches using sample swatches.
“While the collection remains the starting point of the design of any gallery, the developed narrative leads to the inclusion of many more forms of tangible and intangible collections as a part of the overall scheme. Oral histories through interviews, dance forms, rituals and ethnography (using photos) add to the overall experience of the gallery,” explains Ray. “The evolution of the collection from the resident to the progressive repository of the intangible and tangible cultural elements, meant an expansion of the design brief from being just a display of physical objects.”
The museum gallery engages and informs the visitor and the community member alike, using displays, audio-video and tactile experiences. Material culture is also seen as an intrinsic tool for the understanding of lifestyles of people and communities. Through their design studies, the architect and his team, along with Shrujan, were able to develop ad-ditional elements of the collection using jewellery, furniture, tools and implements to take the narrative to a deeper level.
What really sets this gallery apart is the engagement of the artisans in its design and development, says the architect. “A large majority of museums in India cater to the urban masses, leading to a common design program. A community museum, however, sets in a different program in the rural context with the display and engagement approaches based on extensive visitor-based studies,” he notes.
As Ray and his team go on to develop the next two galler-ies, it would be interesting to see how they further represent these traditional crafts to the 21st century audience with the use of a modern design vocabulary and technology.