Archiving For Matter and Memory

Archiving for Matter and Memory

Pramod Kumar KG, co-founder of India’s only archiving consulting company, on keeping material memory alive through textile archives

“This is an ode to the forgotten pattern maker, known across India as the naqash, naqshi or naqshband, and is the most important part of the weaving progress. Yes, even more important than the weaver!”

These lines sum up an Instagram post by archivist Pramod Kumar KG this June. It was in response to a debate, yet again, around the contentious issue of credit between the weaver and the designer. The textile in question was a ‘revived’ Kasavu sari made on the Balaramapuram weaving template for an ongoing, private sari revival project by Seminar editor Malvika Singh. Kerala-based designer Alan Alexander Kaleekal had worked on the research, creating a pattern drawing for weaver Chandran. Kaleekal had played the all-important but often unsung role of a naqshband (map maker by literal translation).

It is not without reason that Kumar, co-founder of Eka Archiving Services, India’s only commercial archiving consultancy, emphasises the science and significance of naqshbandi. At the Delhi headquarters of his company launched in 2010, Kumar, persuasive in his arguments and passionate in tone, opens several documented drawings and monographs to explain the role of the naqshband. Not to be confused with the master craftsman in every scenario, a naqshband configures the math of weaving, creating a structure and design graph for the weaver to follow, thus becoming a co-archivist of material memory.


Pramod KG of Eka Resources.
Maneesh Mandana

Sustaining material memory is one way to explain Kumar’s work as managing director of Eka.

Co-founded 13 years back with Mumbai-based art historian and curator, Deepthi Sasidharan, also the director of the company, Eka, includes “Cultural Resources and Research” in its consultancy. It works with corporates, institutions, schools, palace trusts, jewellers, textile artists and private collectors. It enables museums, well-oiled archives, books, catalogues and valuations of collections, as well as curating exhibitions and outreach. Creating profiles of material culture, offering risk analysis to existing art and fabric or helping with acquisitions of collections are a part of its work.

While Kumar says his compelling interest in textile archiving started with Anokhi founder Faith Singh’s work on the Anokhi Musuem in 2005, their clients include couturier Tarun Tahiliani, the Amprapali Museum of Jaipur, Fabindia, Moda Goa Museum and Research Centre (Sasidharan’s project), Chennai’s Kalakshetra Foundation, City Palace Museums in Udaipur and Jaipur as well as international institutions in Nepal, Bhutan and the West Asia. Textile archiving, however, is just one part of the work Eka takes on.


Tarun Tahiliani Archive.

In this conversation, Kumar talks about the insufficiently addressed scope and value of archiving Indian textiles, what defines a distinguished archivist and why documentation is key for design to survive beneath the surface.

Edited excerpts from the interview.


Eka Resources archiving for Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing, Jaipur, 2005.
Eka Resources

What drew you to textile archiving? 

I had a very early interest in the field. My first museum project was the Anokhi Museum of hand-block printing in Jaipur. Faith Singh, who founded Anokhi in 1969, being English, had thankfully preserved all the archives even though the museum was commissioned by her son Pritam Singh and daughter-in-law Rachel. Every morning, for an entire year, before Faith went to work, we would go through the Anokhi archives together. She would tell me why a particular block print was important, what it had done for the craft at that point in Jaipur, the developments she did on the table with her printers. And, how, every few years, these design developments had allowed her a breakthrough, thus gradually altering the entire scope of block printing.

This taught me that if you don’t understand processes, you will always remain on the surface level. Only when you physically do something, you realise how by changing one thing, something entirely new can be created.


Eka Resources archiving for Pra-Kashi, National Museum, New Delhi, 2019.
Shovan Gandhi

You are particularly emphatic about naqshabands in Indian weaving clusters. 

I learnt this when I began working with Rahul Jain (Padma awardee, weaving engineer and textiles scholar) as I curated Pra-Kashi: Silk, Gold and Silver from The City of Light exhibition in 2019 for  Jain and Devi Art Foundation. It displayed textiles from Jain’s Asha Workshop in Varanasi, a unique studio and perhaps the only such drawloom practice in the world. I realised that while all textiles are woven by the weaver, he only follows the pattern of the naqsha maker. For me it was a Eureka moment. If you didn’t have the naqshband, it would be impossible to convert the design from a graph to a machan and then take it to the real warp and weft.

When you start archiving textiles, you find that original naqshas were paper graphs created like a string of chords. You could wrap one and take it with you but only a weaver would know what to do with that bunch of chords. Preserving that is one of the most crucial parts of textile memory as well as revival. Unfortunately our designers don’t create designs on a naqsha so they seldom explore the endless possibilities of weaving.

A certain dumbing down of textile design has taken place over the years. Even in the Viswakarma books (exhibition catalogues on the revival of Indian traditional textiles curated by late Martand Singh), weavers confess that they had begun creating designs which only one person could manage instead of three weavers at one loom as it was traditionally done. Thus diminishing the scope of the design. Oddly enough, we are now ‘reviving’ dumbed down design.


Eka Resources archiving for Pra-Kashi, National Museum, New Delhi, 2019.
Eka Resources

What compels you most about archiving?

The compelling part of archiving is a beneath-the-surface look at textiles, as material memories exist, samples exist. We must keep this bank of archive alive in proper repositories. Most families have grandmother and great grandmother saris, but if you look closely, for a country of saris, our oldest example of a sari doesn’t go beyond the early 19th century or before 1820. Especially, the way we understand full-length saris.

And it is not just about saris. For instance, Arjun Vir Singh, a young designer from the National Institute of Design (NID) Ahmedabad did some extraordinary work on the khes. In an article, he explained how the geometric patterns on a woven khes were based on the Mughal Charbagh design. That’s why I think besides archiving textiles, we must also archive people who create them, the masters, who perpetuate living cultures.


Eka Resources archiving for Jagatdhatrimata Trust, Udai Bilas Palace Collection, Dungarpur, 2010.
Eka Resources

Indians have strong sentiments for collecting fabric pieces, saris and shawls. Do you see it as a kind of textile patriotism? 

The tangibility of fabric has an emotional magic or connect. Cloth touches us most. It also represents why the entire world came to India looking for textiles, what was taken from the Coromandel Coast, why ancient Indian fustat textiles were found in Egypt. Collecting textiles is something very Indian as the country has strong traditions of weaving as well as dyeing. Textiles were used for everything—furnishings, everyday usage, even for armour.


The compelling part of archiving is a beneath-the-surface look at textiles, as material memories exist, samples exist. We must keep this bank of archive alive in proper repositories.

How dependent is textile archiving on climate and storage conditions?

Extremely dependent as textiles take very badly to extreme weather. When you create archives, you must remember that air-conditioning inside buildings is created for people, which you can switch on, switch off, regulate temperature. But for textile preservation, air-conditioning must run continuously. Daily variance and sharp contrasts in temperature can shatter textiles. They need to be stored in supremely well-ventilated areas where fresh air is pumped and circulated and the pieces are frequently aired. That is a big challenge even for museums. Singapore, for instance, has created a centralised national archive where all pieces can be stored. But that’s possible only for a country the size of Singapore. In India we will need one centralised archive for each state. But it is worth it, considering the energy cost and carbon footprint that is otherwise lost. Not having archivists is a loss too.

That’s why I am fascinated by the unconventional ways of archiving today. There is a Museum of Material memory on Instagram. They record stories of people who are holding these textiles, their everyday practices—it is like a museum on social media. I am very keen on internet archiving as archives are of several different kinds.


Eka Resources archiving for Jagatdhatrimata Trust, Udai Bilas Palace Collection, Dungarpur, 2010.
Eka Resources

Who makes a distinguished archivist? What would you say is the defining skill set?

One of my team members—Anita Jacob—has almost a genetic predisposition to organising, creating systems and works with ruthless efficiency. That’s the kind of everyday discipline you need; you cannot be a straggler even for one day. Plus, it is important to understand the contextual linking between materials. For instance, we saw three photographs while looking at a museum collection in Gwalior and could contextually link them to the Udaipur Palace archives, the Jaipur City Palace, and photographs in the Nizam’s archives in Chowmahalla Palace, Hyderabad. We could place where they belonged and connect the story. This linking and detailing them down to minutiae in a qualitative way makes an excellent archivist. Organising facts for existing collections is a must. When we opened the Amprapali Museum in Jaipur, it dawned on me why we hadn’t thought of archiving and documenting tribal jewellery before this. Rajiv Arora and Rajesh Ajmera who own Amrapali, have international exposure, they value the lexicon of tribal Indian jewellery and that’s why this became possible.


Eka Resources archiving for Serendipity Arts Festival, 2019.
Eka Resources

Is archiving a fixed science or an archivist can bring personal interpretation in filtering and organising pieces? 

It is a question largely of interpretation. I may sort a collection through the filter of chronology, someone else may bring in the idea of relevance. For each filtering and format, the owner, institution or collector can take a call. However, there is a particular science to it. In museums, each individual piece is separately archived. Once we receive a pile of material, we are duty bound as archivists to first record the original order. So that 20 years later if someone re-visits the archive, they can find the original order as well as be able to reverse it. It is the same as modern conservation. You cannot make any change that can’t be undone. Orders of arrangement or filters are looked at through types of content, chronology, sometimes separated by material (like glass, paper, stone or something else), size, price, when it was acquired, previous provenance, names of artists or textile makers. Then there are filters by formats like ‘landscape’, ‘portrait’, ‘woman’ or ‘sari’. It is exhaustive, precise and scientific.


Banner: Eka Resources archiving at The Hidden Kaleidoscope November, 2019. Credit: Eka Resources