written by Emma Sumner
Artist, Curator and Writer
Email: hello@emmasumner.com
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Anokhi is a brand more commonly associated with the sale of specialist products such as appliqué, embroidery, patchwork and bead work, made by traditional craftspeople in and around the Indian city of Jaipur.  Established in the early 1970s by Faith Singh and J.P. `John’ Singh, it was discovered that many of Anokhi’s customers were keen to get behind the scenes and understand the source of their distinctive purchases.  Realising that there was nowhere to view hand carving and printing or for people to gain a better understanding of what the craft involved, The Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing was founded by Director, Rachel Bracken-Singh and her husband Pritam Singh in 2005 to act as a platform to introduce visitors to hand printing.

Located in the historic 11th century military town of Amber (Amer) around 13 kms from the bustling hub of Jaipur, the museum is based in the ancient Chanwar Palkiwon ki Haveli (or Chief Fly Whiskers mansion).  Purchased as a ruin in the late 1970’s by Anokhi’s founder John Singh, it wasn’t until 1989 that an extensive and sensitive restoration commenced to bring the haveli back to its former glory.   A team of specialised craftsmen used local materials and traditional Indian building techniques to reconstruct the haveli stone by stone according to the oral instruction of their elders, a mixing of the innovative and traditional which won the haveli a UNESCO award for cultural heritage in 2000.

The grand façade of the carefully restored haveli provides the museum with a spectacular entrance which provokes an eager anticipation to discover what’s inside.  Moving through the haveli’s snaking rooms and low doorways, visitors are treated to a broad range of displays which take them on a journey through the craft’s historic roots to today’s more contemporary use of it.  Numerous displays carefully explain the roots of various traditional prints while others explain the laborious and intricate processes used to produce each print, further illustrated with hand-on demonstrations from the museums onsite chipper (block carver) and printer.

All of the exhibitions within the museum draw from Anokhi’s vast collection of traditional regional textiles, historical textile pieces and vintage & contemporary cloths by artists and designers.  Anokhi’s continued involvement with hand printing ensures their collection policy has a firm understanding of the need to help preserve this crafts creation today and in the future, continuing to create openings in their collection for exceptional, traditional work produced today.  Anokhi’s treasures have never been seen outside of the museum, but as Rachel Bracken-Singh, the museum’s Director explains:

“We have never loaned out pieces to other galleries primarily because we haven’t received any requests to do so. Also, we have limited staff in a position to focus on exhibition loans and all that might entail, so have, up to date, not actively looked to promote works from the collection outside the museum.”

The museum’s collection is in the process of being developed digitally with the aim of providing easier access for the public in the future.  The museum’s forward programme is informed by current research around historical work while maintaining a presence of contemporary work by local artists and designers as a way of promoting modern renditions of this traditional craft.

One of the prevalent aims in Anokhi’s ongoing work is its dedication to help keep the traditions of the hand printing flourishing, a concern currently being combated through an active educational offer for schools and colleges.  Rachel Bracken-Singh explains how the museum hopes to develop its educational offer further:

“The museum is attracting a growing number of educational institutes from outside Jaipur and we would like to find ways to facilitate opportunities to experience the craft in its traditional setting through workshops in printing towns and villages, something which would be of benefit to both the craftsperson as well as the onlooker.”

One of Anokhi’s key initiatives, and something which very likely plays a large role in the museum’s success is its ongoing community development programme which encourages the local children of Amber to participate in both the schools programme and weekend workshops, all helping to strengthen the respect the next generation has for this traditional Indian craft.

The Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing is a distinctive venue which provides information about an exceptional and very much still active craft.  A space of information for a wide range of visitors, from the general public with little or no previous knowledge of the craft to textile enthusiasts and specialists still actively working within the tradition of hand printing; there is something here to enthuse every visitor.  Most prevalent perhaps is Anokhi’s sheer dedication to the preservation of hand printing and its active campaign to secure its future, something that will undoubtedly be an inspiration for many other museums with their own specialist crafts to preserve.