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I can still smell the dye lingering in the air, hear the carver’s tools ringing in my ears, and feel the inner calm from that moment. Life presents us with these little moments, some pass us by unnoticed and get blown away in the wind like autumn leaves. Others preserve themselves in our memory for us to treasure over and over again, like an old dog-eared photograph we love to keep looking at. My visit to Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing, situated outside of Jaipur, was one of the latter.
From my accommodation in Jaipur, I caught a tuk-tuk and trundled off to the museum in the town of Amber. About half an hour later, feeling slightly battered and bruised from the potholed roads, I sensed that we were lost. The driver asked a few locals who were standing by their little stalls, watching the world go by (and probably laughing at the lost gori). Eventually, after shrugging of shoulders and arm waving, the driver negotiated the tuk-tuk through the rabbit warren of streets to arrive outside the museum.
The sandy coloured Haveli looked warm and inviting, and I was most excited to look around and learn more about the block printing process. Pigeons cooed as I walked around the building, reading the information boards on the history of this traditional art and the natural dyes used. The museum opened in 2005, to help promote and preserve block printing. Throughout its maze of information, printed fabrics and garments are displayed, showing regional designs and the how the dyeing process works. It felt like a journey, starting with a blank piece of cloth, and finishing with a piece full of life, swirling with blossoming flowers.
I ventured to the top floor of the Haveli, where the sound of the carver’s tools became louder. Chip. Chip. Chip. He invited me to sit down, and so I watched him work with such patience, as he carved a design into a wooden block. These are the patterned blocks which are then dipped into the dye and placed onto the cloth for printing. I admired the beautiful pattern, so detailed that he had spent two days carving about half of the block. I traced my fingers over the lines; the winding stem, the pointed leaves, and the delicate petals. It reminded me of lace.
Leaving the carver to continue his work, I walked down a narrow passage which led to an open courtyard. The pigeons ruffled their feathers overhead as I approached another man at work. He was deep in concentration over a large table which was covered in cloth. Steadily and carefully, he dipped a wooden block into a portable tray of dye, pin-pointed it on the cloth, then hit the block with his fist. Each time he lifted the block away, he did it so magnificently, it was if he were a magician lifting a hat away to reveal a rabbit.
Being an artist who takes inspiration from Indian textiles and architecture, this visit was food for my soul. The atmosphere was peaceful and yet buzzing with creativity at the same time. You can probably feel and hear the museum’s heartbeat through its walls. And so once again, I have brought this old dog-eared photograph out, which is drenched in colour and full of whispers. I have looked at it, smiled, and relived the moment. A moment to be treasured over and over again.
As well as working at TransIndus, Lizzie is also an artist who draws freehand patterns in fine line pen, inspired by India and the Middle East. On her travels she collects ideas from architecture, landscapes, and textiles, to create unique pieces of artwork reflecting these exotic cultures.
Lizzie recently won an international art competition, hosted by Arabia Offscreen, a London based social enterprise and education programme. Offscreen conducted the expedition to Saudi Arabia, travelling with 10 young artists, photographers and filmmakers, from the UK, Egypt, Malaysia, Qatar and the UAE. (Lizzie's winning work of art is pictured right.)
The expedition aimed to show youngsters a country which is rarely seen, and yet misrepresented in the media. As a result, exhibitions at HSBC in Canary Wharf and collaborations with the British Museum are taking place. Lizzie found it an eye opening expedition which will without a doubt enrich her off-the-beaten-track experiences and influence her future pieces of artwork.