Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) lived his life in non-violent civil disobedience to British rule in India and the laws and taxes that disempowered and impoverished the country’s people. Known more widely as the Mahatma meaning ‘great soul’, his 1930 Salt Satyagraha (the pursuit of truth), more widely known as the Salt March, inspired the new rug collection Gandhi In Colour by Irish artist and designer Nuala Goodman.
The mineral salt is universal. It is known to everyone, rich or poor, educated or uneducated. Salt can be mined or it can be hand harvested in shoreline pools of high salinity seas. The British colonial Salt Act in 1835 meant Indians were forbidden to gather or mine salt. The mineral became a government monopoly. Gandhi’s plan was simple but powerful. He organised a weekslong march of some 400km to a natural source of salt on the edge of the Arabian sea. At the destination Gandhi gathered salt in his hand and publicly broke the law. His followers gathered salt by the sackful. Global newspaper headlines included ‘Gandhi Defies Britain; Makes Salt in India’, and these initial headlines were soon followed by ‘Salt Rights Are Granted By Britain’. Gandhi’s Salt Satyagraha became a critical juncture on India’s march towards self-rule.
Goodman’s subject matter for her rug collection is unusual, yet skillfully in tune with growing global objections to ‘business as usual’ whether that means social injustice, climate crisis or other issues such as the accelerating wealth gap. ‘I was in India on a research trip’ she says. ‘The National Gandhi Museum in Delhi, [the city] where Gandhi spent the last months of his life, was very inspiring. I was struck by phrases such as ‘My life is my message’ : they resonated with me.’ Black and white photographs of Gandhi’s Salt March inspired her. ‘I noted that on one hand they were monochrome images of figures against a white ground, very picturesque as such situations in India tend to be. On the other [hand] these groups of figures in motion created abstract patterns. I immediately thought they could make beautiful textile designs.’
Based in Milan for more than two decades, Goodman recently told The Irish Times her inspiration includes the Dalai Lama’s statement ‘the true Buddhist thinks and believes abstract’, a construct with resonance for the abstract patterns in her Gandhi In Colour collection. Tufted in wool by Saraswati Global Ltd, in Jaipur, her designs seem to capture the mark making left by thousands of feet marching against injustice. Originally designed as a monochrome collection for release in 2020, COVID-19 delays made her reflect that ‘the public want colour as we wade out of lockdown’, so she shifted to a colourful palette. ‘I like the fact that there is a deeper meaning behind these designs, that the rug collection pays homage to a person who spoke truth to power. He walked on foot through Indian villages, gathering people who joined the march as he went along, in protest against the colonial monopoly on salt.’
Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt March changed the world. His walk is still a powerful lesson in peaceful civil disobedience. The ‘rugs work as a series of pleasing designs’, says Goodman, but his powerful message is there in the fibres ‘for whoever cares to see it’.
Gandhi In Colour is on show during Milan Design Week 5-10 September, hosted by Spazio Pellini.