Artists who take up a new history of textile art

Textiles have long been markers of civilizations. Every stitch, pattern, even the wear, tells the stories of the people who made and wore them. For a long time, however, it was considered purely a decorative art, a kind of cottage industry. Until the last decades, when artists like Nelly Sethna, Monica Correa and Mrinalini Mukherjee introduced it to the field of contemporary art.

Sethna used kalamkari in his large-scale mobile sculptures, while Correa imbues the weaves, created on a vertical loom, with the energy of color and movement. Mrinalini Mukherjee used dyed and woven hemp to create sensual sculptures. Today, young artists are pushing the boundaries of textile art. While some pursue repair with a single goal, others challenge colonial histories through the making of clothing. Still others are inspired by textiles to interpret them on other supports.

The act of reparation: Bhasha Chakrabarti

The American artist has always been interested in the act of mending. Usually associated with clothing or items for personal use, this form of repair has always been largely non-transactional and delegated to women. She sees in it “a creative gesture, which confronts fragility and impermanence. It could also be taken metaphorically – extending to repairing relationships and emotions. Pulling a thread from this literal form of domestic repair to the melee frays in the public realm, she attempts to rethink societal wounds, grumbles and scars as liminal spaces that can transpose us into the future without erasing the past. “But you can never fix anything back to its original state. There will always be cracks,” she warns.

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Chakrabarti works with used clothes – creating paper from old jeans in blue notesor using old quilts and yarn to cover a painted figure until only the limbs are visible in A study of limbs and Lihaaf. Cloth generally dresses the body, but by painting bodies in oil – often nude – on textiles, or transferring images onto cloth, she reverses the idea. She plays with the idea of ​​hiding and revealing. “There is an element of surprise when people find an oil painting on fabric. But many seem to forget that painting is traditionally done on a canvas or linen support. I’m interested in that point in the history of art that distanced textiles and painting,” explains Chakrabarti.

“A Study of Limbs and Lihaaf (California King)”, 2020, by Bhasha Chakrabarti. Courtesy of the experimenter and artist

The fabric then becomes both support and subject. Priyanka Raja of the Kolkata-based Experimenter Gallery, which represents the artist, says Chakrabarti addressed issues of gender and the look at the body, particularly the female body, and, therefore, identity. The materials she uses…canthajeans, muslin, cotton rag paper – emphasize his concerns.

The duvet used in Lihaaf covering the painted body, for example, also refers to the tradition of quilting in Hawaii, where Chakrabarti grew up. It was used by American missionaries to “civilize the natives”. “The Hawaiians, however, made it their own. When Hawaii’s last monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani (1838-1917), was imprisoned, she had no freedom but to make quilts. She was embroidering messages for the people of Hawaii, so what was meant to be a form of suppression became a means of liberation,” the artist explains.

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Questioning colonial histories: Bushra Waqas Khan

The miniature sculpted garments – ivory dresses, European leg-sleeved dresses, a dress with 554 hand-cut roses, with each button a crystal-encrusted Swarovski – look like they’ve come straight out of a fairy tale. Viewers sigh at the sight of Medallion, an off-the-shoulder organza dress, presented at the India Art Fair by Delhi-based Anant Art Gallery. In a video call from Lahore, Pakistan, printmaker and seamstress Bushra Waqas Khan calls these dresses her “Alice in Wonderland moments”, each surprising her equally.

Not only are the works exquisitely shaped, but they make a subtle commentary on the colonial histories of South Asia. Khan reuses sworn stamp papers, proof of ownership, to create these sculpted dresses. “Previously, women had no right to property. Even though we were independent, we still followed the laws made by the British,” says Khan, who extracts patterns from stamp papers to add detail to garments.

A fine arts graduate from Lahore, she returned to her home of Multan, teaching in the printmaking department of the local art school, which had closed for lack of teachers, for a year before joining a fashion and design institute. design. This is where she realizes the potential of textiles. “That was in 2007-08. I would do fabric assemblages. I also started exploring Multan craftsmanship,” she says. After marriage and a child, she moved on to a medium that would allow her working from a small table at home. She began printing images onto heat transfer paper to create clothing. “I made a little black dress and hung it on a mannequin. But I couldn’t finish it because I was expecting my second child,” she adds.

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In this case, the dress was seen by a visiting art curator who invited her to participate in an exhibition. Short on time, she decided to create small-scale versions of the dresses. “And it’s been my medium ever since,” says Khan, who made her first miniature dress in 2019. Khan loves manipulating patterns to create illusions. The paper, when layered repeatedly, becomes so heavy that it takes on a shape of its own. “Under Rosa is made of organza and has such stiff lines. The material decides whether it will be a dress with a trail or a skirt with edges,” she says.

“Melancholy, You Stayed Too Long” by Hansika Sharma. Courtesy Threshold Gallery

The language of sons: Hansika Sharma

There’s Something Really Thoughtful About Hansika Sharma’s Story Melancholy, you stayed too long. The movement of gold and silver zari the embroidery on indigo-dyed linen almost mimics the rise and fall of emotions. The artist’s encounter with textiles dates back to her childhood in Assam and her visits to Arunachal Pradesh in the late 1990s. There she saw shawls, dyed in natural colors, being woven. This sparked a fascination with the fabric. She started reusing scraps and scraps of embroidered yarn in her work to create new stories. “Just as we have alphabets and numbers to write a sentence, Hansika forms a language with the threads and tana bana textiles,” says Tunty Chauhan of Delhi-based Threshold Gallery, which represents the artist. “Just as you highlight an important phrase in an essay, embroidered zari serve the same purpose in his work. It also helps to break up the monotonous and melancholy nature of deep indigo dye.

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Interpreting textiles in oil paintings: Haroun Hayward

The London-based artist, whose mother was a textile collector, uses textile patterns as inspiration for acrylic and oil works. The threadlike texture, created by scraping layers of paint, mimics the fibrous quality of textiles. “One of the fundamental tenets of my work is the relationship between pattern and rhythm in the visual of textiles (primarily Indo-Persian and West African) and pattern and rhythm in electronic music (primarily Chicago Acid House and Detroit Techno) which I also developed with,” says Hayward, whose work was presented at the Fair by Mumbai-based Isa Gallery. In a labor-intensive process, he begins with a blank wood panel covered in three coats of gesso, with sanding done between each coat.As he applies color, he hollows, carves and scrapes a composition onto the panels before the paint dries.

'Valley and River, Northumberland with Geometric Grid' by Haroun Hayward.  Courtesy of Galerie Isa

‘Valley and River, Northumberland with Geometric Grid’ by Haroun Hayward. Courtesy of Galerie Isa

“The lower left portions are the traditionally oil painted sections of the panel, and the lower right portions of the panel are the ’embroidered’ elements. It’s a delicate and time-consuming job because I essentially sculpt the relief with paint. When everything is applied and gently pressed all over, I mark the entire surface very gently so that it imitates the thread of an embroidery,” he explains. Together, the threads cohere like rhythmic forms, reflecting his interest in the subtle, repetitive tempos of electronic music subcultures.

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