|A visit to the Amber Fort is a ‘must see’ destination when visiting Jaipur, but visitors are increasingly adding a little gem of a museum onto their list as well. In the fort’s shadow and a mere 10 minute walk through the cobbled streets of Amber, the historic capital of Rajasthan, lies the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing (AMHP). Located in a magnificently restored 16th haveli, the museum displays a selection of block printed textiles alongside images, tools and related objects — all chosen to provide an in-depth look into the complexity of the craft. As the sole museum dedicated to block printing, AMHP strives to educate both scholar and general public alike; but more importantly, the artisans themselves are encouraged to visit and view their craft in a unique and inspirational way.
The mansion that houses the collection, the Chanwar Palkiwon ki Haveli, is itself a testament to Indian craftsmanship. Anokhi founder, John Singh, purchased the ruined mansion in the late 1970s and eventually began a 3 year restoration project in 1989 with architects, Nimish Patel & Paula Zaveri. Their goal was to demonstrate that traditional methods were still viable and cost effective in the modern world. By using indigenous materials, time-honoured construction methods and skilled local craftsmen versed in the knowledge of their forefathers, the successful restoration earned a UNESCO award for Cultural Preservation in 2000.
Upon completion, the use for the haveli was yet to be determined until Pritam Singh and Rachel Bracken-Singh, John’s son and daughter-in-law, envisioned a museum dedicated to block printed textiles. The Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing opened its doors in 2005 and welcomes a growing audience each year. Today a visit offers not only an education on block printing, but also a rare glimpse into Rajasthan’s glorious architectural past.
As the galleries suggest, the museum maintains an active acquisition program supplemented by loans from the Anokhi Archives as well as a variety of other lenders. While the museum focuses on contemporary cloth, including garments and home furnishings, displays of antique textiles provide an historic context for the collection. Galleries dedicated to Ajrakh, Balotra, Bagru, Sanganer and Jaipur display traditional costumes still worn today, albeit in dwindling numbers. Natural dyes are part of the story and chemical dyes are included too, along with information about dabu mud-resist and varak gold printing processes. In accordance with its mission, AMHP is always looking for practitioners and designers who are hand printing fabric. Exhibitions of contemporary work exemplify how block printing is evolving and adapting in new directions.
Above all, education is the museum’s most important mandate. The staff has developed popular tours and hands-on workshops for all ages and skill levels. Furthermore, to illuminate aspects of the craft, a film and slide show plays in the auditorium consistently during the day. Yet perhaps the highlight of any trip is time spent with our resident karigars craftsmen. Visitors delight in the opportunity to work side-by-side with the museum’s skilled chhippa printer and block carver, and frequently leave with a block printed handkerchief tucked in their pocket. More concentrated time with the craftsmen may be arranged by signing up for a workshop.
While we appreciate our audience from across the globe, our first concern has always been our neighbors in Amber. Believing that education begins ‘at home’, the staff has developed specific community initiatives to generate interest in block printing in the museum’s own back yard. By making children a priority, perhaps our proudest achievement is that every schoolboy and girl in Amber repeatedly visits the museum on one of our school programmes, and many have participated in weekend workshops designed to introduce them to their cultural heritage. One of our most popular initiatives has been our annual “What’s Happeningat the Museum?” party that updates locals on museum developments and encourages them to visit with family and friends. This event includes tours, workshops and games led by a dedicated staff, all natives of Amber.
Lastly, the museum supports an ongoing research programme to study block printing in select regions of northern India. The goal is to discover, interpret and document the state of the craft and its practitioners as block printing adapts to the pressures of modern textile production. In conjunction with this research, AMHP is publishing a series of books that culminate in museum exhibitions.
To date our publications include — Print & Progress: Innovation & Revival, 1970-2005, Balotra: The Complex Language of Print, Ajrakh:Patterns& Borders and Sanganer: Traditional Textiles-Contemporary Cloth. In an effort to provide a concise compendium, Blockopedia: A Beginner’s Guide will be available in 2013.
The Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing continues to grow with new acquisitions, educational programmes, publications and exhibitions. Challenges face the printing industry as it tries to keep pace with modern manufacturing. Hopefully, through these endeavors, visitors from home and abroad will leave the museum both a little wiser and a little more sensitive to the need of protecting this enduring living art form.