Jasleen Dhamija (b. 1933)
An art historian and a prominent figure in the world of Indian textiles, Jasleen Dhamija’s contributions to the field include not just multiple books and extensive research on traditional Indian crafts, but also policy development and revival efforts. She has been involved in formulating policies for the handicraft, handloom and rural livelihood sectors of India and several other countries.
Born in Abbottabad (present-day Pakistan), Dhamija lived there until 1940, when her family moved to New Delhi. Here, she studied at the Presentation Convent School and later attended the University of Delhi. It was during these years that she developed an interest in handicrafts, fashioning bags and lampshades to sell at the Cottage Industries Emporium.
Dhamija began her career at the All India Handicrafts Board in 1954. During this time, she travelled extensively with Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay and met artisans across the country as the Board worked to formulate a policy for the revival of the handicrafts and handloom sectors in India. She later went on to write a biography of Chattopadhyay, which was published by the National Book Trust in 2007.
As an advisor and consultant, with organisations such as the United Nations Development Project and the World Bank, Dhamija has worked in diverse geographic and social environments. In Iran, she worked on a project on rural non-farm employment, was an advisor to the Farabi University, Tehran, and authored the book Living Traditions of Iran’s Crafts (1979). Through the 1970s and 1980s, she worked on the revival of crafts practices and women’s livelihoods in twenty-one countries in Africa. She also worked with the United Nations in Central Asia. In 2011, she was appointed co-chairperson of the Handgroom Development Working Group for the 12th Five-Year Plan (2012–17) by the Planning Commission of India.
Dhamija has authored and edited several works on textiles, costumes and folk arts around the world, including Indian Folk Arts and Crafts (1992), Woven Magic: The Affinity Between Indian and Indonesian Textiles (2002), Asian Embroidery (2004) and Baluchars: The Woven Narrative Silks of Bengal (2019). She has also published two cookbooks. Among the exhibitions she has co-curated are Threading the Commonwealth: Textile Tradition, Culture, Trade and Politics (2006), which was held in Melbourne, Australia, and Powercloths of the Commonwealth (2010), which was held in New Delhi.
Dhamija has taught at several institutions, including the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad; the National Institute of Fashion Technology, New Delhi; the University of Minnesota, USA; and the University of Canberra, Australia.
At the time of writing, Dhamija lives in New Delhi.
Ahmed, Monisha. Woven Art: Textiles from the Jasleen Dhamija Collection. SaffronArt, 2016. http://mediacloud.saffronart.com/auctions/2016/textiles/ecataloguev2/files/assets/basic-html/page-1.html#
Dhamija, Jasleen. “Of People and Places.” Seminar. Accessed August 17, 2021. https://www.india-seminar.com/2002/515/515%20jasleen%20dhamija.htm
International Journal of Intangible Cultural Heritage. “Dhamija, Jasleen.” Accessed August 17, 2021. https://globalinch.org/contributor/dhamija-jasleen/
Kannadasan, Akhila. “The Bloom of Tradition.” The Hindu, November 25, 2014. https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/interview-with-textile-art-historian-jasleen-dhamija/article6633076.ece
Pisharoty, Sangeeta Barooah. “Drapes and Divinity.” The Hindu, July 23, 2014. https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/jasleen-dhamija-editor-of-sacred-textiles-of-india/article6241449.ece
Ralleigh, Damini. “Story of the Senses.” Indian Express, February 17, 2018. https://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/books/story-of-the-senses-5067028/
Tripathi, Shailaja. “Patterns of Power.” The Hindu, September 24, 2010. https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Patterns-of-power/article16045954.ece