A few years ago, just as my mom declared the dusk of her 35-year University Career, she also announced the dawn of what she wanted to continue to do: Empowerment of rural Women Artisans and her love of Sewing & Embroidery! With Phulkari she could pursue both. Around the same time, I was developing an existential itch…what is my true calling? The smoke & mirrors of the Corporate World were wearing thin after 12 years. My love of color and texture pulled me in the same direction and I rediscovered what Phulkari meant to me.
Phulkari – The happy fabric. The fabric with an undeniable femininity. And, patterns so soulful that a mere touch can transport you into another world. Especially, the world of The Punjab, the birthplace of Phulkari in the glorious North-Western corner of the South Asian Sub-continent.
Phulkari has rich history: Big, Bold – with its roots anchored in the history of human civilization, in this case, close to the ancient sites of The Indus Valley. Phulkari blossomed with every layer of migrational wave in and out of South Asia, each bringing its own colors, motifs, styles and skills with it. Proximity to the Silk Route and one of the longest Ancient Roads of the world (The Grand Trunk Road – a 2500 km long “river of life” that touches the seaport of Chittagong on the East and meanders all the way across the heart of modern day Bangladesh, India and Pakistan to Afghanistan on the West) made Phulkari a trading-essential in much the same way as Spices, Silk, Tea, Coffee and Cotton. Phulkari flourished during the Mughal Period as well as in Colonial times, often referred to as The British Raj. In 1947, the Partition of India split the heart of Punjab and Phulkari burned in the cauldron that was thus stoked, receiving much deserved resuscitation on either side of the border in recent years. However, much had been lost: Some old patterns and motifs had all but disappeared; the Trinjans – groups of women who sang and embroidered together - had fallen eerily silent and lots of Artisans had moved on to other more lucrative livelihoods as “assembly-line” cheap Phulkari inundated the Indian Bazaars.
So when Mom said she wanted to work with the Phulkari women of Punjab, I knew I wanted to paint them and their motifs. And, as we walked down this beautiful road together, Virsā was born!