To Stir the Still Air: A Collection of Handfans from the Indian Sub-continent and Beyond at IGNCA.
New Delhi; 25th May, 2018: A unique collection of Pankha, traditional Indian handfans, is exhibited from 26th May through to 24thJune 2018 at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) in New Delhi (with a preview on 25th May). The exhibition features fans and related objects such as paintings, prints and films selected from the vast collection of eminent artist Jatin Das. The artist’s collection began with a pankha gifted to him by a friend and has now grown in the past two decades to include over 5,000 different fans.
Jatin Das continues to collect fans on his travels, often visiting basti markets and haats or asking chowkidars, cooks and peons for hand fans, especially during the hot months when they are most likely to be produced. He has come across beautiful pankhas in this way, hand-made by mothers, wives, sisters and daughters. Sometimes he visits antique dealers, where he finds rare or antique fans. Das’ collection also grows thanks to the generous gifts of friends who are familiar with his passion for pankha. From fixed ceiling fans operated by pankhawala to cool a congregation, to large phads used for the comfort of aristocrats and nobility, to handfans and flywhisks, the assortment of artefacts is astounding in size, variety and beauty. The fans range from intricately woven bamboo, grass, cane, wheat stalk and palm leaf, to feather, silk cotton, leather, bead and mica or mirror.
Handfans play an important role in social customs in oriental countries like Japan and China as well as Spain, where a complex fan language has developed to express emotion and convey wordless messages in a whorl of man-made wind that emanates from a simple flick of the wrist. It is a symbol of daily life and an essential accessory for both males and females alike. In India, the main use of the pankha is combatting the heat of hot Indian summers. Handfans are used for rituals and comfort, and almost every Indian art form features a pankha in depictions of myths, religious stories and tales of mortal adventure. Pankha are associated with romance, as women used the tool to seduce, comfort, and cool their lovers with the gentle caress of softly disturbed air. Ceremonial fans were used in temples, decorated pankha were an important part of a bride’s dowry, large fans were a crucial element of the social gatherings of aristocrats and nobles, and rudimentary pankha were used to fan cooking flames.
The Pankha collection was first shown at the Crafts Museum in New Delhi and has since travelled across India and around the world to Switzerland, Philippines, United States, Malaysia and the United Kingdom. It will ultimately be housed in the JD Centre of Art in Bhubaneswar, Odisha – Jatin Das’ home state. Though some pieces from the collection have been exhibited previously, this is the most definitive collection to date, around 500 in number and the largest cross section of fans. This exhibition will feature demonstrations by skilled craftspeople and fan-making workshops for children. The fans are categorized by their usage, material, origin or type. It will feature pankhas in addition to other art forms that feature the handicraft. Cool Indian summer drinks, leisurely music, poetry and literature centred on the warm months complete the image of these lyrical objects just in time for Delhi’s temperatures to rise. The exhibition is curated by Jatin Das.
This collection of pankas is a small attempt to rejuvenate the spirit of the living traditions of India. The makers of these fans carry on a long tradition of decorative creativity – a tradition which is sadly disappearing today, for a variety of reasons. Each year, the Indian postal service issues a number of commemorative postage stamps dedicated to different historical and cultural objects, events, and personalities. In 2018, Das’ Pankha collection was granted a place on Indian stamps, where they will travel around the world promoting the rich and diverse expressions of Indian craftsmanship through the post. Thanks to Jatin Das and other like-minded people, the poetry of these fans, their charm and beauty will be able to enchant generations to come, as this collection will have a permanent house in the JD Centre of Art.
The JD Centre of art was established by Padma Bhushan awardee Jatin Das in 1997 for the conservation and promotion of traditional and contemporary visual arts and crafts. The Centre is a registered Trust that celebrates the rich cultural heritage of Odisha and all of India, offering an equal platform for contemporary and traditional artists and makers. It aims to become a significant institution in the cultural landscape of the region. JDCA’s core collection, donated by Jatin Das, consists of the artist’s own work and that of many of his contemporaries, as well as traditional art and craft objects, textiles, antiquities, books, films on art, and recordings of art-focused lectures derived from the Centre’s monthly “Meet the Artist” lecture series.