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Lawyer to sari revivalist: Tracing the journey of Vinay Narkar

Days of yore are abundant with stories of new Maharashtrian brides adorned with a black Chandrakala sari on their first Sankranti after marriage. The exquisitely-woven black sari with golden buttis represented Sankranti’s starry night. It is such beautiful traditions and more that lawyer-turned-sari revivalist Vinay Narkar hopes to revive with his work. As the Chandrakala collection was recently displayed at the Artisan's Gallery, Kala Ghoda, we spoke to Narkar about his inspirations and more.

From lawyer to sari revivalist and designer charts quite a career path. What prompted this change in career?
It’s my love for Indian textiles and the urge to express my design ideas that led me to changing my career.

What is your source of inspiration?
Every collection has a different inspiration. Often, I get inspired by visual arts like paintings. For instance, I recently did an abstract ikat collection and an abstract series inspired by painters like Mark Rothko and Gaitonde. The interlocking technique i.e. the three shuttle technique is my biggest inspiration. With the number of possibilities that it offers, I come up with something new every time.

Tell us more about your latest collection.
My latest collection comprises traditional and contemporary saris. In the traditional collection, I have revived the Chandrakala saris of Maharashtra which are now a lost weave. These saris were significant for the occasion of Sankranti—new brides were presented with a black Chandrakala for their first Sankranti. A Chandrakala portrays a starry night. I have also recreated a few museum pieces of Paithanis and revived the Molkalmuru puja and Chanderi saris. I am now doing new designs in my Irkal collection in cotton silks.

In my contemporary collection, I am doing an optical art series. In this art form, black and white stripes are used to create visual patterns. These could be set with other contrasting colours as well. This collection perfectly relates to a quote by prominent optical art painter Bridget Riley which says, “Contrast is a very basic principle of my work, but I use a mixture of colour harmonies and colour contrasts to activate effects.”

What was the kind of research that went into this project?
The Chandrakalas were lost a long time ago. Even the photos are scarcely available. I found references in Marathi literature and visited various museums to find Chandrakala photos.

What were the weaving techniques that were used?
For reviving old saris, I always prefer to use the old techniques. Majorly, the three shuttle technique has been used. In fact, the patterns in the collection would not have been possible without the three shuttle technique.

What are the challenges that you’ve faced in creating this collection?
It was very difficult to visualise the Chandrakalas as nothing was available except for a couple of photos. To convince the weavers to do something different is also always challenging.

You’ve worked with Telangana weavers for 10 years. Share your experiences.
Overall, the experience was very nice. However, there are challenges; it’s difficult to convince weavers to do what they are not used to doing. To explain what I expect and keep them motivated isn’t easy either. But, my weavers are a part of our family now. One of the positives I’ve noticed in the last 4-5 years is that there are no migrations from the weaving profession in the Telangana region.

In terms of making these traditional textiles relevant to today’s youth, what are the challenges that were faced?
The awareness is very low. We have to work very hard on it. We also need to make designs in the vocabulary and aesthetics they relate to along with the traditional weaves.

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