The two textiles shown side by side, are Ajraks-- the blue silk one is from Karachi, Pakistan and the blue-red is a wool-silk scarf produced in Bhuj, India. While deeply visually similar, the textiles are produced in two countries, that though border each other, are divided by political conflict that does not allow trade or travel between the two countries-- even to conduct research. The blue silk scarf is mine and the blue-red scarf belongs to Meera Curam.
Meera and I met at the In-Situ Graduate School last Monday where we shared our objects of research. I study Ajrak, a typically block-printed and resist dyed textile produced in Sindh, Pakistan and in Gujrat, India. Meera is researching madder in South-India and is also considering block-printed textiles produced through natural dyes. As I shared details of my project and my scarf, bought from a high-end craft store in Karachi as a sample of Ajrak, Meera produced the scarf, almost visually identical the one that I had-- just on a different fabric, produced by a renowned Ajrak artisan, Ismail Bhai Khatri in India.
For Meera, both Ajraks carry sImilarities in their visual makeup, but are significantly different in the fabric and composition. For me, I am baffled by how two Ajraks produced in different locales carry the same motifs and are so recognizable. In the case of Ajrak, the visual vocabulary is somewhat fixed, but artisans experiment with their designs producing creations that are unique but also retain some of the identifying motifs of Ajrak. Ajrak practice and many motifs carry symbolic meanings which range from spirtuality to cultural practice, however artisans have experitmented with form, moving from only cotton to silk, wool, linen and synthetic fibres as well. While Ajrak may be visually recognizable but when observed closely, you can see the individuality of each artisan embedded within the design-- should they choose to do so.