The Khadi Five Year Plan

Reviving Ghandi's Activist Spirit with Jhola

The 5 Year Plan is a work of art as social architecture. It is artwork that questions the loser/winner model by combining everyone's best talents to equalize all participants as contributors and benefactors. The seeds for the plan grew from a love for the art printed onto jhola shoulder bags made by Gandhi Ashram collectives. It's a genuine post-industrial pop art collection of 32 screen-printed artworks by contemporary international artists including, Yoko Ono, Francesco Clemente, Donald Baechler, Chris Martin, and Julie Doucet. The artworks are printed on khadi cloth and bound into limited edition cloth books.

I always wanted to create a book of Gandhian jhola bag art and the inspiration for this project started with my own paintings, which were sold to benefit Barack Obama's campaign. The idea came to me while washing dishes a week before the inauguration—a notion of triangulation of interests that fit together artists, weavers, and a charitable component. For two months I examined the implications, and when I was certain that it was ethically consistent and economically feasible I began building a support system very carefully and gradually.

The foundation to the 5 Year Plan derives from Gandhi's primary motivation of social justice. His khadi program was intended to provide the poorest of the poor with self- sufficiency in which true independence elevates everyone from the ground up--a socioeconomic theory that's the polar opposite of "trickle-down" economics.

Historically, pricing for India's cotton was set by the British Empire. Thus, indigenous cotton that was spun and woven into fabric was sold back to India at prices which destroyed village economies that had once provided these needs. Khadi was meant to demonstrate that the empire could only control India as long as Indians economically collaborated in its own oppression.

This condition is exactly what is happening to indigenous cultures throughout the world as foreign multinational corporations literally buy up the ground from under people's feet for mining, and systematically deny livelihoods to local producers by flooding the markets with cheap plastic goods. In India, khadi was the primary symbol of the independence movement and jhola bags remain a badge of the artist and intellectual. Khadi remains a powerful demonstration of solidarity with Gandhian principals of social justice.

I saw weavers in India who make jholas, the poorest of the poor, barely surviving. I also saw the sacrifices of a camp coordinator friend in Darfur with Doctors without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières ), and wondered how artists could serve in ways that are specific to artists. By asking of people to contribute only what they already do i.e., artists, weavers, and MSF, we've combined mutually exclusive interests with art as the bridge that serves everyone.

The core of these interests starts at the foundation of how johlas are made from khadi. It begins with Indian village farmers who grow the cotton then sell it to a Gandhian Collective at a fixed rate. The cotton is carded to remove seeds and a series of processes make it suitable for spinning. "Slivers" of cotton are then distributed to villages and cotton thread is spun on a hand powered wheel called a "charka". A spinner can spin about 2000 meters of cotton thread in a day.

One meter of woven khadi requires 3000 meters of thread. The thread goes to the collective and is woven on wooden looms and about eight meters of khadi is woven in a day. The khadi is then made into jhola bags, cloths, and other necessities and these are sold through Gandhian Khadi Bhavans (shops) throughout India. Until this year, khadi collectives have been partially subsidized by the government, but economic support is now being drastically reduced. The future for many village collectives is unclear.

We work with three collectives: the Manav Seva Khanjaphur in Modingar that spun and wove all the khadi; the screen-printed jhola bags came from Khanpur, which is known for their distinctive khadi. In addition, we commissioned an additional 300 jholas from the same collective in Khanpur, which will be printed in Pilagua, near Modinagar. For the 5 Year Plan, it’s difficult to estimate how many people are involved because the majority of the work is done in tiny villages near Delhi and Uttar Pradesh, but by commissioning 1,400 meters of khadi and purchasing 600 printed jhola bags for the project, we have provided a minimum of 2,300 days of work for spinners and weavers, many of whom support entire families between two and ten persons.

The printing of the artworks in the 5 Year Plan book was entrusted to Rudraksh Printers in Jaipur Rajasthan. Most of the book was screen printed as are Gandhi jholas, in addition to complex wooden block printing.  The book is 100 percent khadi woven for the project and will come in a jhola bag 100 percent made and printed by Gandhi Ashram collectives.

So far, we've raised about $25,400 to do the 5 Year Plan project and the books will be sold to collectors, institutions, and at some point will also be inexpensively available in museum shops. Signed editions will be sold for $1,650.00; unsigned books will be sold for $1,000.00. Purchases and donations can be made directly on the site, Five Year Plan. After settling our debts and costs, we will donate an equal amount to the funds raised to Doctors without Borders. Any money left over will seed a continuation of the 5 Year Plan project.

Finally, my close friend, associate, and mentor Mr. Vijay Handa, along with the representatives of the Gandhi Ashram collectives all believe in the 5 Year Plan's mission. We hope that we'll be able to popularize low-cost hand-spun, hand-loom khadi jhola bags in collaboration with world class artists. India's millions of khadi workers can meet any production demand.

Jholas are collaborative works of art. They are eminently practical, beautiful, and ethically consistent with Gandhi's activist spirit of cooperation and self-sufficiency. The sales of these bags will support the weavers who produce them, generate funds for Doctors without Borders, and satisfy the needs of consumers who love art and recognize the unsustainability of plastic bag consumption.

5YP will be published in Jaipur in an edition of 500 copies. 65 copies will be signed by all the artists. Each signed copy will have hand-embroidered covers produced by the Indian clothing designer Alpana Bawa. All profits from sales of 5 Year Plan go to Doctors without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières ) and to fund the next 5YP benefit project. To learn more about The 5 Year Plan and the numerous artists who have generously contributed their artwork, please visit www.5yearplan.org.

Aaron Sinift is an artist and lives in New York City. He is the co-founder and manager of the artists' studio collective "Betty's" in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Since 2004 Betty's has provided affordable art-making space for working New York artists.

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