A Wish to Live With Block Printing

Traveling as diplomat children, we’ve been brought up in various cultures, always fascinated by the people, food, and crafts. My sister and I have always had a strong pull towards crafts, especially Indian textiles.  We’d always look to bring Indian textiles, jewelry, and crafts into our home. However, the truth is that it was hard to find the true treasures amongst the mass-market goods. Indian craft market was hidden in the villages with very few outlets in the mainstream market except for a few stores.

At the same time, my sister was working to finish her Masters in Textiles, specializing in the ancient technique of Block Printing with natural dyes.  The timing was right and with the passion for crafts and a desire to scour and promote craftsmanship. I quit my 11-year software engineering job to set off with my sister on a craft tour of India.

We met many artisans and their families and saw that most of them were connected with their art as a tradition passed down from their ancestors that they also wish to pass down to their children. We also visited a few NGOs that are supporting farmers, artisans, and women. And we loved it all!  With such history and tradition in making of a product, it was just not possible for us not to be part of it. And thus came about ichcha, or ‘a wish’, to live and encourage conscious living; conscious of the environment and of the value and life of the products created and sought.  indigo-curtains-drying-ichcha

Ichcha – A Wish to Live

While Ichcha is also about expressing our artistic side, it’s also about encouraging the artisans to find dignity in their art. “Ichcha for Artisans” is an endeavor to encourage the artist within the artisan, giving back 100% profits to the whole community that makes the product possible.  All hands are awarded the credit of being part of the end product; the treasure that makes it’s way into the customer’s home.

How we got started…

Back in the days, India, specifically the region of Rajasthan, was filled with multiple tribes who were known by the work they did. One of those groups was the Chhipas or Printers. They used to create the printed clothing for the various tribes in the region. Each design, with various motifs, specified your job or the tribe you belonged to. You could tell whether a person was a farmer or Metal smith by the printed shirt or turban worn.

The strict separation of the tribes has slowly dissipated but what remains are a few stories by the elder generation still keeping alive the secrets of the motif and the craft of block printing.

To the artisans we work with, the art of block printing has been their tradition and their way of life, for the past four generations. It continues now to the latest generation that strives to keep the family craft alive by finding new markets and ways to keep up with fashion. The only thing that remains true is the beat of the wooden block on the table, the 20 year old and 10 ft deep indigo dye vat, and the passion to continue.

What is Hand Block Printing?  

Hand Block Printing with natural or vegetable dyes is an ancient print technique. This art form has been around for years in India, and saw its most glorious years around the 12th century. Today, it is competing against the fast world, but surviving only because to the people who still value them.

how-to-block-print-wasing-ichcha

Step 1 – BLOCKING. Block means a wooden square piece with an engraved pattern on it.  This block is used to print on fabric – and this art is called block printing. The fabric is then commonly called block print fabric.

Step 2 – CARVING. Master block carvers, who have been doing this for many years, carve these blocks. These blocks are carved by a chisel and wooden hammer to form a design pattern.

how-to-block-print-carving-wood-ichcha

Step 3 – PRINTING. There are a couple of block printing techniques but the one that we work with is called Dabu.  Dabu is a mud resist made by mixing together fuller’s earth, gum and few other natural ingredients.  It is mixed into a paste not by hand nor by machine, but by foot, just like grapes were crushed to make wine in the yesteryears!

Once this paste is ready, the fabric is printed with a block using that resist.  The areas that are stamped resist any dye that the fabric is dipped in.

Step 4 – DRYING. Sun is crucial to this process.  At every step the fabrics have to dry in the open fields under the sun.

Step 5 – DYEING. After the fabric has been printed, it gets dyed. We work with dyes that are made with natural materials found in our surroundings, such as flowers, leaves, spices and various other natural metals.  Below is an indigo vat that has been going on for several years.

Step 6 – WASHING & DRYING. After dyeing, the fabrics get washed by hand. More so than not, block printing is a multiple step process where the fabric gets re-printed, re-dyed to bring out the designs we want.

Use Coupon code “goeatgive” to receive 20% off any purchase at   www.ichcha.com. Offer expires May 30, 2016.

~ By Rachna Kumar, co-founder of Ichcha, for Go Eat Give. 

Top 10 Reasons to Visit Cuba

Whether you’re looking for delicious food, vintage car rides, architectural gems, or lively dance, Cuba has it all. Here are the best reasons to visit Cuba…

1. Tour Havana in a classic American car. Drive through Havana in a vintage Chevrolet convertible for a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Adolfo, our guide/driver of a bright pink Chevy, tested our Spanish by explaining details of each site. Highlights include: the stunning view of Havana from La Cabaña (The Fort); photo ops in front of a massive marble statue of Jesus Christ, called Cristo de la Habana in Spanish; sampling delectable scoops of ice cream for four cents at the government run Coppelia Ice Cream Parlor; and meeting the official “Lennon glasses guardian,” Juan Gonzalez, who is in charge of putting Lennon’s famous wire-rimmed glasses on his statue.

old cars of cuba
Vintage American taxi

 

2. Drink a fabulous Cuban mojito or daiquiri. Mojitos are refreshing Cuban drinks with five key ingredients: rum, sugar, lime juice, sparkling water, and mint. Outstanding mojitos are available at nearly every restaurant or bar in Cuba. My favorite mojito was at 5 Esquinas (5 Corners) Restaurant in Old Havana because I got to watch the bartender make it! Daiquiris are cocktail concoctions with three key ingredients: rum, lime juice, and sugar. Bananas or strawberries can be added to the mix for additional flavor. Ernest Hemingway’s favorite Havana joint, El Floridita, also known as “The Cradle of the Daiquiri,” whips up frozen daiquiris, made with blended ice and maraschino liqueur.

3. Smoke a Cuban cigar. Even if you’ve never smoked in your entire life, there’s a first time to try everything! Start with the best by trying a Cuban cigar at a family-run tobacco plantation in the town of Viñales.

A tobacco farmer in Viñales shows how to make the perfect Cuban cigar.
A tobacco farmer in Viñales shows how to make the perfect Cuban cigar.

4. Dine at a traditional Paladar. Paladars are intimate family-run restaurants with a delightful ambiance. These cozy restaurants serve traditional Cuban food, along with wine and delicious desserts. I had a lovely dinner at Paladar Los Mercaderes, located inside a charming colonial building in Old Havana. I walked up a staircase with pink rose petals and took a seat at my table underneath stained glass windows. As I enjoyed a scrumptious meal of succulent lobster with pineapple sauce, I listened to a violinist and guitarist strum “Guantanamera” in the alcove. For dessert, I enjoyed a layered chocolate and wafer treat with a caramelized edge.

5. Stay at a family-run casa particular. These bed-and-breakfast-style casas are everywhere in Cuba. A casa particular typically has a few private rooms, each with its own bathroom, situated inside a family’s home or apartment. You can rent the room at a very reasonable price, usually around $30 per night. The casa’s family members cook breakfast, assist with luggage, and even pick guests up from the airport or bus stop. Staying at a casa is just like visiting a relative for the holidays, except you get to chat about life over mojitos and learn a few rhumba dance moves from the family! It’s a fun experience and you get a chance to bond with local Cubans.

6. Walk along the Malecón and watch an incredible sunset. The Malecón is Havana’s famous thoroughfare where locals gather to chat with friends and enjoy spectacular ocean views. From here, you can see gorgeous sunsets and watch the Malecón’s colonial buildings light up in bright pink and orange. Everyone I met in Havana told me that if you haven’t visited the Malecón, you haven’t seen Cuba!

A couple admires the view from the Malecón.
A couple admires the view from the Malecón.

7. Dance. In a small Havana alleyway called Callejón de Hamel, crowds gather every Sunday at noon to take in the energetic rhythms of Afro-Cuban music. Here, people dance to the beats of pounding drums, spirited singers, and enchanting rhumba dancers moving their hips to the beat. If you’re lucky enough to sit close to the stage, you might find yourself dancing with the group!

8. Visit the town of Viñales. Here, you can photograph soaring evergreen trees and giant limestone cliffs at the magnificent Parque Nacional Viñales. It’s also designated as a UNSECO World Heritage site. Viñales is famous for tobacco plantations, historic caves, and beautiful greenery. Take some time to relax in a rocking chair on the porch of your casa particular and watch the world go by.

A rainbow peaks lights up the limestone cliffs of Viñales.
A rainbow peaks lights up the limestone cliffs of Viñales.

9. Admire Cuban architecture. Only in Cuba will you find a mix of different architectural styles ranging from baroque to modern art deco. Stroll past ancient churches, narrow alleys, and cobblestone plazas to admire the colorful architecture. In an open top bus tour (which is only $5 per person), you’ll drive by art noveau buildings in central Havana’s hip neighborhood of Vedado.

The National Capitol Building in Havana
The National Capitol Building in Havana

10. Check out the art. It’s everywhere. Cuba’s art scene is vivacious and unique. The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (The National Museum of Fine Art) hosts intriguing exhibitions from Cuba and abroad, including a recent art show from the Bronx. I was in town for the Havana Biennial art celebration in May, so all the galleries had amazing art shows on display. I also visited a hip, new gallery called Clandestina, started by a young graphic designer named Idania del Río. Her shop in Old Havana is full of colorful posters, T-shirts, and other fun items.

Havana Skyline

Havana Biennial represents a changing Cuba

The air buzzed with excitement outside the Factoría Habana in Havana Vieja. Cubans and people from around the world, gathered outside the gallery, eagerly awaiting the opening. Right away, art aficionados dressed in trendy outfits, streamed into the building. Within minutes, the entire gallery was full of people looking at art, chatting with friends, taking pictures, and listening to the woman DJ spin music.

I couldn’t believe I was at a cool gorgeous art gallery, full of cool, gorgeous people right in the center of Havana. Everywhere I looked, I saw young fashionistas admiring the art from hanging iPads to a giant sign made with plastic rulers.

Change is happening in Cuba. During the 12th Havana Biennial this year art galleries and museums displayed never-before seen work. One of the most interesting scenes was along the Malecón, a popular sea-facing stretch of road where people gather to enjoy the view. For the biennial it became a massive outdoor art gallery featuring everything from an ice skating rink to a fountain with barbed wire.

In Havana, art was on display everywhere from a dilapidated bicycle factory to fancy art galleries! In the words of an organizer on the festival’s website, “It won’t be a Biennial for collectors or gallerists, but rather to make a connection with the city. There will be no official opening or specific venues; art will spill out of the galleries, bursting into the streets which will be bubbling with ideas.”

A former bicycle factory turned into an art gallery during the 12th Havana Biennial.
A former bicycle factory turned into an art gallery during the 12th Havana Biennial.

On my last night in Havana, I met Cuban artist, Rachel Valdés Camejo. She’s the artist behind the magnificent “Blue Cube,” a giant plastic blue box on the Malecón. Upon entering the blue cube, I could see the dark blue ocean and the clouds in the sky above. Rachel explained the inspiration for her cube, along with another installation she has on display at the 18th-century fortress, La Cabaña. She excitedly talked about how this type of art can impact all Cubans. Even though Rachel studied and lived in Spain and the United States, she wants to be a part of the Cuban art scene. She said the Malecón was the perfect venue for people of all backgrounds to view and interact with the art.

Rachel Valdés Camejo's incredible sound, mirror, and light installation on display at the 18th-century fortress, La Cabaña.
Rachel Valdés Camejo’s incredible sound, mirror, and light installation on display at the 18th-century fortress, La Cabaña.

During the biennial, the entire city of Havana became a living art museum. I noticed hidden gems such as a wall full of tiny sketches in an abandoned building. In a former bicycle factory, I saw pieces of silver embedded in the wall. I was impressed that many of the artists stood next to their pieces and eagerly interacted with the audience.

During the 12th Havana Biennial, the entire city of Havana became a living art museum. I noticed hidden gems such as a wall full of tiny sketches in an abandoned building.
During the 12th Havana Biennial, the entire city of Havana became a living art museum. I noticed hidden gems such as a wall full of tiny sketches in an abandoned building.

Along the Malecón, Moroccan artist Safaa Erruas displayed a Moorish shaped fountain with hundreds of white barbed wire poles emerging from the center. When people looked down into the fountain, they could see a reflection of themselves. She told me that her piece represented borders and “at first, you don’t see the borders, since nothing appears at first as what’s reality.” Her piece emphasized how politics often creates boundaries. Another Moroccan artist, Mounir Fatmi’s installation of poles painted with American flags represented the U.S.-Cuba relationship. I met a curator who told me that many of these art pieces were created before the U.S. and Cuba formally engaged in dialog in December 2014.

Moroccan artist Safaa Erruas displayed a Moorish shaped fountain with hundreds of white barbed wire poles emerging from the center titled, "Fuente de Espinas," or Fountain of Thorns," in English.
Moroccan artist Safaa Erruas displayed a Moorish shaped fountain with hundreds of white barbed wire poles emerging from the center titled, “Fuente de Espinas,” or Fountain of Thorns,” in English.

Many Cuban artists raved about the New York exhibition, “Wild Noise,” which debuted at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana (Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes). In this exhibition, The Bronx Museum gathered more than 80 pieces from American artists. It was an amazing experience to see this collection from New York debut in Cuba for the first time in fifty years!

The Havana Biennial represents a Cuba that is quickly changing. This year, over 200 artists from 44 countries across Latin American, Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States presented their art pieces in Havana to the world. Cuba is such a fascinating country and I hope to visit again for future art and culture celebrations.

Art piece displaying U.S. and Cuba flags at the Zona Franca exhibition, held inside the 18th-century fortress, La Cabaña during the 12th Havana Biennial.
Art piece displaying U.S. and Cuba flags at the Zona Franca exhibition, held inside the 18th-century fortress, La Cabaña during the 12th Havana Biennial.

The Havana Biennial runs until June 22.

Living With Art in the Yucatan

During my recent visit to the colonial city of Velladolid in the state of Yucatan, Mexico, I had the privilege of visiting John Venator at his home. Venator is a retired American executive who fell in love with Mexico few years ago. He visited the Yucatan area with his wife on vacation, and eventually made it home. In Velladolid, John and his wife, Dorianne purchased a home that was in ruins and renovated it for 10 years. They designed every feature of the house very carefully and then converted it into one of the largest private Mexican art collections in the world.

john venator

Casa de los Venados translating to House of the Deer, is an 18,000 square foot private home/ folk art museum located near the main square of Velladolid. An unassuming sign outside the main door doesn’t give away much to whats inside – over 3000 pieces of museum quality Mexican folk and contemporary art.

John shows me around the hallway, patio, bedrooms, kitchen, backyard and dining room, pointing out to several of his favorite pieces. Everywhere I look, there is a sculpture, painting, pottery or furniture that was either commissioned by the Venators or acquired from art shows, flea markets and competitions. There are no names or descriptions, but John himself remembers each artists, and goes on to tell several stories of how he brought them to his collection. The pieces are from all over Mexico and represent traditional Mexican elements such as wild animals, everyday people, skulls, devils, etc. There is even an entire guest suite dedicated to the famous legend, Frida Kahlo.

Below are some photos from Casa de los Venados… but truly, they don’t do justice to actually seeing the place in person.

casa de los venados casa 2 casa 3 casa 4 casa 5 casa 6

While the Venators continue to live in this house museum, they offer daily tours at 10am in English and Spanish for a $5 suggested donation, through which they support local charities. A visit to Casa de los Venados is not to be missed! Watch video of the home or visit their website for more information.

The Artisans of Old Quito

Quito is not just Ecuador’s political capital but also a beautiful city with colonial architecture, well preserved Catholic churches, Spanish squares and cobblestone streets. While its easy to get overwhelmed by the must-see attractions Old Quito offers, it is also important to take a behind the scene look into Quito’s artists and traditions.

You may pass by these tiny stores, not realizing they hold a part of Ecuadorian history, so make sure to pay attention and watch out for these highly recommended stops.

Restauraciones Carrion

(Carrion’s Restorations), Imbabura 823 y Rocafuerte

artist in Quito restores Baby Jesus dolls

Here you will find hundreds of chipped, burned and discolored statues of Baby Jesus of all sizes. It is a tradition in Ecuadorian households to keep a Baby Jesus in the living room, typically dressed in the occupation of the family members. You can see Jesus doctor, farmer and even a soldier carrying a gun. 

The statue is considered to be a part of the family and instead of throwing of replacing a broken one, Ecuadorians bring it in to the restoration shop, sort of like they would take a family member to a doctor if something was wrong.

Some of the statues are made from paper mache, others are ceramic or plastic. The artist, Gonzalo Carrion, uses a special family secret recipe to create the color of skin that makes the dolls looks natural. He says this skin color is also good for treating human skin diseases, so he bottles them up and sells it in his store, although it is not used as make up.

Baby Jesus dolls in Quito, Ecuador

 

Colociones Cruz Verde (Sweets in Green Cross Area)

Bolivar 8-97 y Chimborazo

candy shop in Quito, EcuadorThe traditional candy shop run by Luis Banda, makes sweets the same old fashioned way that his family has been doing for generations. He uses a heavy bottomed wok heated with charcoal and continuously rocks it with a rope. Molasses, nuts and coloring are added to it to make different concoctions. The locals eat these sweets as a midday snack between 10-11am and pack them for road trips.

 

Sombrereria Benal Cazar

Av. 24 de Mayo

hat shop in Quito, EcuadorCesar has been running his family hat shop for over 50 years. Hats have always been an important part of the Ecuadorian culture, as different ethnic and social groups were identified by their hats. The porters wore a flat white hat, while the countryside folks wore another rounded style. Rich landlords wore tall black hats.

Cesar hand makes every hat in his closet size work room behind the store using traditional ways. The shop sells hats, costumes and sandals that are worn during carnival and festivals. At new years eve, people wear masks, mostly faces of previous presidents.

traditional hat shop in QuitoRead more about Ecuador.

Florens 2012: A big success!

Last week, I attended Florens 2012, the Florence Culture and Heritage Week in Florence, Italy. It was one of the most memorable conferences I have attended so far, and for several reasons. One, I got to meet the other 5 winners of Team Florens who had come from around the world, namely USA, UK, Australia and Italy. We spent a lot of time together, talking, tweeting, wandering around Florence and eating our way through the city. Continue reading “Florens 2012: A big success!”

Dogwood Arts Festival

Last weekend, downtown Knoxville transformed into a lively street fair with one of a kind arts and crafts booths, demonstrations, entertainment, and food.  As part of the Dogwood Arts Festival, the entire month of April was being celebrated with parades, bike tours, block parties, art exhibits, live bands, cooking demonstrations and more.

I was lucky enough to catch the Rhythm N’ Blooms Festival during the month of Dogwoods, where well known country, blues, jazz, rock, bluegrass and folk musicians played at different venues across town. The lineup included locally and nationally-renowned musicians such as Amos Lee, Citizen Cope, Darrell Scott, The Black Lilllies, Jessica Lea Mayfield, The Boxer Rebellion, Big Sam’s Funky Nation and Jake Shimabukuro. One of the most splendid venues was the Tennessee Theater, a historic opera style performing arts theater that stands as a landmark in downtown Knoxville.

While walking through the market square, sidewalks became the canvas for professional and student artists during this street painting festival.  Street painting is thought to have originated in 16th century Italy.  Artists in each age group showcased their work to passers by and the ones with the most votes won awards and scholarships at the end of the festival.  From everyday cartoons to intricate paintings, there were all kinds of colorful vibrant images one could admirably walk through and the street painters seemed very confident and talented in their work.

For more than half a century, the Dogwood Arts Festival has celebrated the natural and cultural beauty of East Tennessee. Dogwood Arts Festival is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, presented by ORNL Federal Credit Union, whose mission is to help support arts education in schools, promote the visual and performing arts, and to preserve and enhance the natural beauty of the region.

Stepping back into history in Vienna

If you want to step back in time, go to Vienna in Austria.  I visited in summer of 2008 and was plesantly surprised. Surely there are many old cities around the world but what was special here is that the 18th century buildings looked brand new. They were so well maintained that you felt like they have just come up around you. Horse drawn carriages and cobblestone roads were still the norm here. There were cafes and bars at each corner where famous artists, writers and poets have created masterpieces. “Oh that’s where Mozart wrote his music ….and that’s where Rainer drew his painting” the guide would exclaim.vienna parliament

The gardens in front of the Parliament building were magnificent without any pretence. It was summer; the weather was perfect and the flowers in full bloom. As in most European cities, there were street artists, little galleries, fresh food stalls and tiny shops, that further added to the drama.

I did watch an orchestra perform at the same theatre where Mozart used to play. Nothing seemed to have changed with time here. The New Years Eve orchestra in Vienna is world famous and sold out months in advance. There are also tons of museums to choose from and most of them are free to enter.

Mozart theater ViennaThe best part was the festival that was taking place in front of the parliament building. Every night, a different concert or movie would take place. But there was a food pavilion set up to cater the attendees. There were about 20 stalls of vendors offering drinks and food that would put any food festival to shame! As someone who has this notion that Austrian food is mainly “meat and potatoes”, I was pleasantly surprised. There was fusion of Italian, German, Hungarian, Mediterranean, Spanish, Chinese and much more. I had some of the best mushroom dumplings with goulash for under $10.

Austria remains to be one of my favorite destinations in the world and I hope to return there someday soon.