Rta Kapur Chishti
A textile scholar, Rta Kapur Chishti has spent decades researching and documenting the sarees of India, while also advocating for the revival of the saree as a garment of everyday use through initiatives such as the Sari School. She is also the founder of Taanbaan, a label which sells textiles created by weavers from West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.
Chishti studied political science at the University of Delhi, and later attended the National School of Drama, New Delhi. She completed an additional degree in education from the University of Delhi before beginning her career as a writer, chronicling traditional Indian crafts and craftspeople. In 1981, she was invited by Martand Singh, curator of the Vishwakarma exhibitions, to write the catalogue for Master Weavers, the first exhibition of the series. For this project, she travelled across the country, interviewing one expert from each textile technique and documenting their work.
Chishti then began work on The Sari Project, an effort directed at cataloguing the various handloom sarees of India. Along with designer Amba Sanyal, she travelled across the country to map different methods of weaving, dyeing and draping the saree. She supported her research financially by simultaneously working with a Japanese designer on projects in Rajasthan and Gujarat. As part of The Sari Project, she co-authored Saris of India: Madhya Pradesh in 1989, and authored Saris of India: Bihar and West Bengal in 1995, both of which were edited by Singh. In 2010, her extensive research was compiled and published in the form of the book, Saris of India: Tradition and Beyond, also edited by Singh. It catalogued the production process of sarees in fifteen Indian states and features over one hundred ways of wearing a saree.
In 2009, Chisthi established The Sari School, New Delhi,as a place for people to come and learn these different draping techniques. Two years later, she founded Taanbaan, a label that sells handspun and handwoven sarees as well as home textiles. The label works directly with weavers, farmers and textile craftspeople, and also supports them through financial grants. She has been associated, in various capacities, with the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Delhi and the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. In 2018, she co-curated a commemorative exhibition dedicated to Singh, titled A Search in Five Directions and held at the National Handloom and Handicrafts Museum, Delhi.
At the time of writing, Chishti lives in New Delhi.
Border&Fall. “Rta Kapur Chishti.” Accessed August 30, 2021. http://www.borderandfall.com/rta-kapur-chishti-taanban/
Kaul, Mayank Mansingh. “Conversation with Rta Kapur Chishti.” A Search in Five Directions. Exhibition Catalogue. Delhi: Devi Art Foundation, 2018. http://deviartfoundation.org/exhibitions/a-search-in-five-directions-2018/.
Malika Verma, “Meet the nine grande dames of craft in India,” Architectural Digest, July 14, 2021. https://www.architecturaldigest.in/story/meet-the-nine-grande-dames-of-craft-in-india/.
Taanbaan. “The Sari School.” Accessed August 30, 2021. https://www.taanbaan.in/project05.
Veena Venugopal, “The long and short of it.” Mint, April 03, 2010, https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/SsFnod51u0aLC3lEaSI8EM/The-long-and-short-of-it.html.