Reminiscing the legacy of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay

The exhibition at India International Centre showcases the long ignored aspect of Kamaladevi - her life, her involvement in the freedom struggle, and her art...

Reminiscing the legacy of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay
As much as I felt proud of learning about Kamladevi's life and legacy, it was distressing to know how we failed to acknowledge this golden lady of India. From working for the revival of Indian art and craft to walking beside the freedom fighters in the independence struggle, she broke the monotony and went on to create an entirely new definition of feminism.
On her birthday, which falls on April 3, India International Centre (IIC), New Delhi, in collaboration with Delhi Crafts Council organised an exhibition to reminisce this remarkable woman, her life, and contributions to the motherland.
Kamaladevi, who was born on April 3, 1903, experienced the reality of life at a very young age. She was widowed at 16, but later got married to poet-playwright and Sarojini Naidu's brother Harindranath Chattopadhyay, that too at the time when second marriage was out of the question for a woman.
Speaking of the idea behind curating this exhibition, Purnima Rai, former president of Delhi Crafts council said, "The whole idea came out of another exhibition which was also held at IIC in 2016. The exhibition was a part of her birthday celebration but turned out be a great event, owing to the photographs that came to light for the first time. Devki Jain, the person behind that exhibition knew Kamaladevi Ji personally and her involvement in the freedom struggle and gender politics. Hence, her entire focus in that exhibition was 'Independence movement politics and gender'".
"It struck us that the exhibition talked very little about craft and Kamlaji's involvement in it, though she was a pioneer in this field. And that was the moment we decided to shift the focus. We worked separately and expanded the exhibition. Hence, this one is a more holistic approach where we have not left any phase of her life. It's more like a chronological description of her life. Many books have been written by her about handicraft, but there are not many writers who wrote about her life. It was difficult to present the detailed description and therefore we could manage to give only a brief account of it. All the images are used from the earlier exhibition but we have reworked on the content entirely," she further explained.
Each photo of the exhibition has a different and motivational story behind it. for instance, in few of the pictures, she is seen with Mahatma Gandhi and other freedom fighters. Few other photos glorify her active participation in Dandi March, Satyagraha and other freedom movements. Kamladeviji was very influenced by Mahatma Gandhi but at the same time, also opposed many of his ideologies.
It was Kamaladevi's love towards Indian craft and sympathy for artisans that led to the setting up of India's first cottage industry that worked for the revival of craft. Her initiative not only gave employment to hundreds of jobless people but also acknowledged the skills and talent of those craft persons who were crushed by the Britishers. In the sector of art and craft, she also inspired people to join hands to revive Kasuti embroidery from Karnataka, Toda embroidery from Tamil Nadu, Kalamkari from Andhra Pradesh, Blue Pottery from Jaipur and Chamba Rumal from Himachal Pradesh.
Apart from taking interest in the revival of Indian art which has almost lost its identity post the colonial rule, Kamladevi Ji was highly interested in theatres. In fact, she worked in a few movies, thereby breaking another shackle that was trapping the freedom of women. She was a feminist but also a critique of what she saw as the excess of western feminism.
The exhibition, showcasing her rich legacy, is open until April 15 at India International Centre, New Delhi.

Syeda Eba

Syeda Eba

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