Quite different from the more common mechanised habotai silk, projects made with Murshidabad silk easily stand out.
Items made from this special hand-woven silk are more durable, with a more interesting texture. If dyed, Murshidabad silk has the ability to hold bright colours, even using cold water dyes.
In fact, after testing the silk on the giant flags of the Silk River project, Kinetika now uses this exact silk for the majority of its commissions.
In the UK, proceeds of sales support Kinetika’s charitable work, while in India they support the 14 families of weavers.
Discovery of Murshidabad Silk
Kinetika was introduced to a very fine, high quality 100% hand-woven silk from Murshidabad, a district in West Bengal while delivering the Silk River project.
In the 18th century Murshidabad was world- famous for the heavy, durable but amazingly supple silk that was worn by the Moghul nobility and exported across the world by local merchants and traders to the South East Asian markets. The silk travelled to Europe, exported by the French and subsequently the British East India Company.
However, in recent times, there has been very little demand for producing the heavy silk cloth known as dotari/ teentari.
Kinetika were very keen to work with this exquisite silk and through the Crafts Council of West Bengal (CCWB) were able to connect directly with the local weavers who still had the old looms and the required level of skill.
As a result, 158 square metres of this unique silk was hand painted for Silk River, making 22 huge silk scrolls in all. The closely-monitored dying process revealed how wonderfully this fabric retains the colours of the dyes and how soft it is against the skin.
With this discovery, after 20 years hand painting on habotai silk, Kinetika switched to using Murshidabad silk for the majority of its projects.
Realising that the weaving skill required for this heritage fabric is in danger of being lost, Kinetika is working closely with a local silk merchant and CCWB to make it available in the UK to silk painters and lovers who will appreciate how unique it is.
Quality control is monitored locally by the Crafts Council of West Bengal, which ensures that weavers are appropriately paid and can respond to meet the demand of a global world.
The silk is woven in Dangapara, a small village in Murshidabad by 14 families of weavers who are the last generation who have this skill. Kinetika hope that by creating a new demand for this silk, they will encourage this community to continue this ancient tradition.
“It turned out to be a great revival project as the weavers were contacted, convinced through a series of negotiations that it would be a wonderful opportunity to recreate the superior quality silk on a pilot basis for an international project. The weavers rose to the challenge and the silk for the scrolls was woven on looms that had not done so in recent memory.
The success of the Silk River scrolls in telling the story of the British connection to India, from the past to the present will restore Murshidabad’s place in the history of Empire – as a centre of trade and a producer of exquisite silk.”
Crafts Council of West Bengal
Filmed by Richard Abbatt, stills by Mike Johnston, edited by Fotis Begklis.
Filmed by Richard Abbatt