Brinda Dudhat brings climate awareness to Australia

By Our Reporter
Brinda Dudhat // Pic supplied

Brinda Dudhat, a new-age storyteller and founder of Morii Design in Gujarat, India, believes that art and design can bridge the gap between urban and rural areas by initiating a dialogue about climate change’s impact on traditional crafts and community well-being.

“At Morii, we partner with diverse craft communities to address their unique challenges through our installations. The name Morii, meaning “forest” in Japanese, reflects our deep concern for the environment. As climate change accelerates, we focus on raising awareness about its impacts on future generations and cherished crafts,” shares Brinda.

Brinda founded Morii Design with her husband Sonu in 2019, drawing on extensive experience collaborating with craft communities across India. Through Morii Design, Brinda is reshaping the convergence of art and design.

This August, Brinda will be coming to Perth in Australia to take part in the Indian Ocean Craft Triennial exhibition where she will showcase a seven-panel artwork that symbolise escalating global temperatures and their effects on traditional crafts. “Through this installation, we highlight the urgent need for climate action and the resilience of our crafts.”

For this installation, Brinda has combined block printing, Sujni embroidery, and Rabari mirror embroidery inspired by her studio’s  ongoing experimentation with layering different crafts to create a contemporary heritage through Indian textile arts. The idea is to visually convey how climate change has affected each craft, showcasing their interconnectedness and resilience.

In conversation with Brinda Dudhat.

How do the climate stripes in the Bela block print reflect the changing environmental conditions and their impact on cultural traditions? 

Bela, once a thriving village in Kutch, Gujarat, was famous for its block printing, which relied on the Saran river for washing and dyeing fabrics. As the river dried up, the block printing trade suffered, and many families were forced to abandon their homes and seek work in cities, further challenged by industrialisation and cheap polyester materials.

The Khatris, Bela’s artisans, created distinct designs for various communities, reflecting cultural identities through specific prints like horses for one community and elephants for another. The decline of Bela block printing has led to a significant loss of this cultural identity.

Today, Mansukhbhai is the last custodian of this endangered craft, remembering a time when 40-50 Khatri families were involved in printing. The government of India has designated Bela block print as an endangered craft, highlighting its critical state. The climate stripes in these prints symbolise environmental degradation, socio-economic shifts, and the erosion of cultural heritage, telling a story of resilience and the urgent need for preservation.

How did you collaborate with women artisans from Gujarat and Bihar for this installation? 

We collaborated with seven women artisans from Bihar and seven artisans from the Rabari community of Gujarat to create this installation.

We start by studying and documenting their traditional crafts and practices. This documentation forms the basis for our workshops, where we help artisans evolve their skills and translate their traditional knowledge into contemporary designs.

In our six-month process, we immerse ourselves in their craft to understand its intricacies in the present context. We provide minimal instructions using stickers for colour and stitch placement, giving artisans the freedom to express their creativity while maintaining the design’s integrity.

At Morii, we ensure artisans can work from their homes, preserving their cultural and familial ties and empowering them to sustain and celebrate their traditional crafts.

What challenges did you face in bringing together different craft traditions and contemporary art to create a ‘contemporary heritage’? 

Firstly, overcoming the language barrier and building trust with rural village clusters has been difficult. Many artisans are hesitant to work with us initially because they have been exploited by past designers and design agencies. Establishing trust required multiple visits and consistent efforts to demonstrate our good intentions.

Additionally, the economic value gained from embroidery has led artisans to focus on producing lower-quality work for commercial purposes, rather than the fine quality they once created for personal use. Convincing artisans to return to their original level of craftsmanship and upskilling them to achieve this has been a significant challenge.

Moreover, creating large-scale works is difficult, as few artisans are willing to undertake bigger projects. These challenges have required persistent efforts, patience, and continuous support to bridge the gap between traditional craftsmanship and contemporary artistic expression.

How do you hope viewers in Australia will respond to the textures of Sujni embroidery and the stories they convey?

We hope that viewers in Australia will be deeply moved by the textures of Sujni embroidery and the powerful stories they convey about threatened natural landscapes. Traditionally used for baby quilts by quilting old fabrics and sarees with running stitches, Sujni embroidery has evolved into an art form that we now use to create abstract landscapes. This transformation not only showcases the intricate craftsmanship but also the profound connection between the art and the land it originates from.

Bihar, the birthplace of Buddha, still resonates with a meditative energy that is reflected in the simple yet profound running stitches of Sujni embroidery. However, this lush land has faced severe challenges due to climate change, experiencing the highest number of floods in recent decades compared to other Indian states. Factors such as prolonged monsoon showers, unplanned urbanization, and deforestation have contributed to large-scale flooding, with incidents tripling between 1900 and 2019.

Through our evolved Sujni landscapes, we aim to express this meditative energy and draw attention to the environmental crises threatening the land of Buddha. We hope that Australian viewers will not only appreciate the aesthetic beauty and tactile quality of Sujni embroidery but also share in the concern for these endangered landscapes.

What message do you want to convey through the reflective gaze of Rabari mirror work regarding humanity’s relationship with nature? 

Rabari embroidery, deeply personal to the Rabari pastoral communities, symbolises their historical connection to the land. Once nomadic, the Rabaris travelled across Indian grasslands with their cattle. However, climate change has devastated these grasslands, forcing the Rabaris to settle in Gujarat and resulting in the loss of their cultural identity.

This installation invites viewers to look into the mirrors and see not just their reflection, but also to ponder the transformation of their own identities and the future generations in the face of climate change. The mirrors become a medium for self-reflection, prompting contemplation on how our actions impact the environment and, in turn, how these changes alter our cultural and personal identities.

■ Any memorable experiences or insights gained from your collaborations with the artisan communities involved in this project? 

One of the most memorable experiences we had was during our journey back from the Sujni village in Bihar. We were accompanied by Lakshmi, one of the artisans, and her daughter. During our conversation, we discovered the profound impact our collaboration has had on their family. Living in the densely populated city of Muzaffarpur, Lakshmi shared how important embroidery is to her daughter. For her, working on embroidery pieces brings a sense of peace and purpose, making it easier to pass the time. She expressed that without embroidery, life would feel monotonous and irritating. By having the embroidery work, she feels relaxed and content.

Lakshmi further explained how the earnings from her embroidery work have made her independent, eliminating the need to ask her husband for extra expenses. She can now send additional pocket money to her elder daughter for a better life while studying, and her younger daughter, who helps her the most, receives the largest share of the earnings.

In another conversation with Mansukh Bhai, a block printer from Bela, we learned about his longing to return to his village. Although he is now based in Bhuj and rarely visits his hometown, he fondly reminisced about the life he once had there. He spoke of an open sky, a vibrant social life, and a deep connection to the land where he grew up. Living in the city, he now feels bored and disconnected. He wistfully mentioned how he wished the river was still there so he could visit the riverbank and relive the joy he experienced as a child.

(The Indian Ocean Craft Triennial 2024 opens in August in Perth)

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