An Ancient Technique of Painting on Silk
Today I want to talk to you about Rogan Art, an exceptional technique of painting on silk which fascinates me. This technique is over 300 years old and it has a clear Persian influence. In fact, the word Rogan means ‘oil-based’ in Persian.
The colours are created by boiling castor oil for more than twelve hours to obtain a thick substance with the consistency of a glue called rogan. Natural dies are then added to give it color and they are then stored in cold water inside clay pots. To paint, the rogan is placed on the palm of the hand and stirred until it becomes maleable.
With a 15 cm wooden stick or pen, the artist then draws out a fine thread which is applied to the cloth. The designs are intricate and delicate and they require great concentration, as they are done while sitting on the floor for hours, without any type outline or table frame. It can take up to two months to créate a piece and mistakes are irreversible.
Until a few years ago, there were Rogan Art centres in Gujarat, Khavada and Chaubari in Eastern India. But most of the artisans that knew this art began to dedícate themselves to other more productive jobs, and they stopped passing it down from generation to generation.
Nowadays it’s only practiced by one family in India, which reside in the village of Nirona in the Kutch district of the Gujarat region. Gafoorbhai Khatri is the head of this family and he has kept this art alive by ensuring that his whole family learns and practices this way of living. He has won a national award and he is currently trying to open a school that teaches Rogan Art to children from other families.
Traditionally, Rogan Art was only taught to men. The eight male members of the Khatri family -all of whom have won national and regional awards- are experts in this craft and produce eclectic items with imagery which combines influences of Persian miniatures and folk art.
Until recently their products were not easily available and those who wanted to buy them had to visit the family in Nirona. Touristic exposure is gradually increasing demand. This has allowed the family open a centre employing outsiders. With the support of an organisation, they have trained 60 women, some of which are employed by the Khatris, and a few elsewhere. This shows a change in the ancient tradition, as women are taught what was exclusively taught to men.
Rogan painted fabric is used for bridal trousseau, bed sheets, quilts and pillow covers, wall hangings and even saris. Demand has made the craftsmen extend the range of uses to more contemporary products such as handbags, cushion covers, mobile phone covers, file folders, tablecloths, vests and pieces that can be hung and framed.