Ms. Taniya Vaidya has focused for a decade on creating contemporary paintings using ancient natural dyeing techniques. The nature-culture relationship is central to her work. Taniya has a Masters in Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), USA (2013) and the Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University of Baroda (2003). In 2005-06, she was awarded the Lalit Kala Academy of Art scholarship for Artists. She also received Pont Aven School of Contemporary Art Scholarship to study in France in 2007. In 2012, she received a National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) Grant in USA for a natural dye based public art project.
In this set of works, the focus is on the story of indigo.
Indigo was called blue gold. Scholars have commonly inferred that indigo was in use in India in the city of Mohenjodaro in the second millennium B.C. Indigo remained a rare commodity in Europe throughout the Middle Ages. After the Fall of Constantinople, the demand for indigo, textiles and spices led the Europeans to discover newer sea routes. In the late 15th century, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama discovered a sea route to India. This led to the establishment of direct trade with India, the Spice Islands, China, and Japan. Importers could now avoid the heavy duties imposed by Persian, Levantine, and Greek middlemen and the lengthy and dangerous land routes which had previously been used. Europeans colonised India for spices and indigo. By the nineteenth century, the British had established its empire in India.
The demand for indigo in the 19th century is indicated by the fact that in 1897, 7,000 km2 (2,700 sq mi) were dedicated to the cultivation of indican-producing plants, mainly in India. The farmers and labourers were forced to grow indigo instead of food crops which were necessary for their survival. This indigo was bought from them at a very low price to export to China. Suppressed by the ruthless militias of the landlords (mostly British), they were given measly compensation, leaving them in extreme poverty. Now in the throes of a devastating famine, the British levied a harsh tax which they insisted on increasing the rate. Without food and without money, the situation was growing progressively unlivable and the peasants in Champaran revolted against conditions in indigo plant cultivation in 1914 at Pipra and in 1916 at Turkaulia. In 1917, Gandhi proposed satyagraha – non-violent, mass civil disobedience to oppose the dehumanizing conditions of the indigo farmers. The Champaran Satyagraha by the indigo famers offered India a model for the freedom movement. Gandhiji’s ideas of Swadeshi and Satyagraha found a practical realisation here and led eventually to India’s freedom from the British in 1947.
In the art of natural dyeing nature and culture are linked absolutely. Indigo as a dye is identified in many forms with India. Infact it’s a symbiotic influence of india over Indigo and Indigo over India. The poetic riverscapes of Bengal and Bihar that had indigo plantations and the riverine culture that helped transportation of indigo depicted is the inspiration of many of these paintings. At other places the landscapes become actual maps.
When I first observed the natural dye craftspeople creating I had a moment of epiphany when I went on the riverbed with a Kalamkari artist Mr. C. Subramanium and his family to wash and dry the natural dyed paintings. I realized that it was the landscape-the sun, river, sandy river-bed, sun that created the paintings. The landscape has to be preserved in order to preserve this ancient tradition. I have tried to explore this nature-culture connection even in the imagery of my natural dye paintings. Like kalamkari in Andhra Pradesh uses washing on the river bed as bleaching agent while ajrakh in Kachchh, Gujarat uses lime and clay to create whiteness.
However the works are a result of ancient dyeing techniques mastered by artist Tanya Vaidya that have been tweaked to look like paintings. The artist revealed that the material used as canvas is actually khadi because the fabric is thinner and softer to withstand the process of dyeing and repeated washing. and that every effect is achieved after many stages of washing, dyeing, drying and application of a special resin paste applied on the weave. She replaced chemical colours with those extracted from turmeric, pomogranate rind, jaggery, madder, myrobalan, lime, babul gum paste and indigo obtained using natural vat.
She adds that she does one series at a time as they are based on the process of pre wash with dung, application of various pastes, dyeing and several washings. For each colour or tone the same process is repeated. Hence 12 paintings are painted simultaneously.
She is showcasing more than 30 paintings as part of Indigo Routes, an exhibition of contemporary paintings in Indigo and other natural dyes. For this series she is inspired by the idealsim of India struggling for independence. The play between the positive and negative aspects helps to deconstruct the image and create a dialogue between presence/absence, idealism/ cynicism. The process is lengthy and requires multiple steps of application of various pastes, dyeing and washing. The use of the monochromatic palette and using the negative-white to create positive image is something I learnt from the study of paintings of Alberto Giacometti and drawings of artists like Peter Paul Reubens and Rabindranath Tagore. Her works inspired by K G Subrahmaniyam, whoses influences one can see resonating in her paintings in the celebration of the landscape as a diety. She says, her subject is the ethos and the idealism of time. She looks at the aspects of how nature and culture meet in her canvases.