Jagdeep Raina on the influence and role of textile art in today’s world
“It has always been important for me to think about deconstructing the myth of something that may seem pure or seamless, and to take a closer look at the dirt behind the shine.”
Jagdeep Raina is an interdisciplinary artist whose practice encompasses drawing, painting, writing, photography and textile embroidery. His art poignantly speaks of social justice and the possibility of intersectional solidarities based on collective histories of community and migration. Continually examining the intersections of textiles with other artistic media, Raina’s exhibition, titled Hunt, will be showing at Textile Museum of Canada in 2021. Catching up with Raina, we talked about her artistic inspiration, the current state of the art world in the midst of a pandemic, and what will come next for multifaceted creation.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your artistic journey.
I was born and raised in Guelph, Ontario, got my BFA at Western University in London and then moved to the United States where I got my Masters in Fine Arts. arts from the Rhode Island School of Design. Since then, I have done a few scholarships in the United States, as well as in Europe and South Asia. My work is rooted in painting and drawing, but in recent years it has spread to film and textiles. Particularly in the field of textiles, I worked on weaving, spinning and embroidery.
As an interdisciplinary artist, what about a work that attracts you to one method rather than another?
The thing about drawing and painting is that there’s an immediacy and something pretty urgent about it. I like the speed with which to formulate an idea and embark on the process of its development. But on the other hand, I also like to slow things down. With textiles, building an idea can take much longer. You have to really slow down and be patient to understand what you are building. The back and forth between speed and patience is an interesting tension that attracts me and ultimately determines which medium I gravitate towards.
What inspired you to work in textiles and embroidery?
There are some textiles that come from my ancestral stories and that attracted me a lot. The first is called Phulkari (meaning of the translation flower work), an ancient embroidery textile that comes from India and Pakistan. Woven from hand-spun cotton and naturally dyed with plants and vegetables, the surface is embroidered with intricate designs. The powerful story of Phulkari was shaped by colonialism and globalization, leaving much of the art to die out over the years. Some of the most beautiful Phulkari are those whose entire surface is covered with embroidery, this is called Bagh (meaning of the translation garden). It was traditionally made by people on both sides of the border, symbolizing the roots of family and community. At a time when this profession has disappeared so much, I am really interested in resurrecting this art and part of this history.
Another textile that inspired me is the Kashmir shawl, one of the most beautiful textiles in the world. It also has a history that is both incredibly powerful and dark at the same time, with how centuries of imperialism and colonialism have impacted the industry. Due to my Kashmiri and Punjabi identity, I feel connected to my roots when handling these textiles. I approach working with them through history, my own story and what it means to fall in love with the material aspects of your culture.
Is it important for your job to comment on social or political issues?
Absolutely, look at the times we live in! There couldn’t be a more urgent time than now to comment on social and political issues, they shape our lives every day and often in ways we are not fully aware of. So, it has always been important for me to think about deconstructing the myth of something that might seem pure or seamless, and to take a closer look at the dirt behind the sparkle.
Can you talk about the place of the Sikh diaspora in your work?
It’s a subject that has always interested me a lot, mainly out of curiosity. You know, thinking about migration and how communities form, shape, and disperse over time, and how the diaspora is something like a place where different ways of thinking and different ideas can coexist. Also, the concept of homogeneity and the myth of a homogeneous community is important to think about –How can a diaspora that I come from be critically examined as a community not only racialized, but imperfect in itself?
How do you think the pandemic has affected the art world?
I think there’s a lot of self-reflection that artists and art institutions are doing right now. It seems the pandemic has exposed the flaws in society and highlighted the disparities that already exist in the art world. I’m not sure how we can all approach them in the future, but I think it will take a lot of listening to each other and careful thinking about all of our actions.
Your personal exhibition, Hunt, will be exhibited at the Textile Museum of Canada in 2021. Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind this body of work?
chase away was first designed with Shauna McCabe at the Art Gallery of Guelph as works on paper over the past four years with some tapestries and weavings I had made. It examines the idea of examining a diasporic history of Kashmiri and Sikh communities in Punjab through a critical lens. I think with this show, themes like geography, ecology, gender and class all come across as factors that shape a community.
The word “hunting” is something I have always considered a double-edged sword. People are constantly looking for a new sense of identity for themselves or a new way of life. The diaspora, formed by this idea of hunting, is looking for a better life. On the other hand, it also has a negative connotation. The pursuit is something that could also produce a state of mind of scarcity – where you can become so disconnected and alienated from the world around you because you are constantly looking for something better, that you start to perpetuate new divisions within. within your own community or your ways of thinking. Oscillating between these two modes of thought is a major theme of this work.
How did you get involved with the Textile Museum, and what prompted you to exhibit there?
There is something really amazing about the Textile Museum of Canada being a space entirely dedicated to the art of fiber, as an artist I consider it a rich place. I grew up visiting the museum and with each visit I became more and more in love with the art of textiles, helping me to push my practice and develop my skills. The museum functions as a space where people can reflect on the history of textiles, especially in their work with indigenous artists and artists from the Diaspora who have ancient textile practices and a history with the land. It is a space that offers us the opportunity to reflect on the difficult questions about the role of textiles in today’s society, and the importance it has in developing this role in a more holistic way.
Congratulations on receiving the Emerging Artist Award from the Textile Museum, what does this kind of distinction mean to you?
I really feel humbled by it. It helps me deal with the doubt that many artists have, I think. When you receive something like this, it helps you realize that this work might be important someday, and maybe these awards could help me get this work done. It offers a lot of validation.
Are you feeling inspired right now or are you working on future projects?
There are a few projects I’m really excited about right now, including one I’m working on with a London-based playwright and a good friend of mine, Satinder Chohan. We are collaborating on a research-based project around the Green Revolution, a US-backed agricultural framework that was introduced to India after its decolonization from Britain. It is based on a variety of high-yielding seeds, intensive irrigation and drainage, as well as the introduction of the use of chemicals and pesticides as a means of producing more food for farmers. It had a truly devastating impact on the earth as well as a heartbreaking epidemic of farmer suicide.
Satinder wrote a play about the Green Revolution when she lived with farmers in Punjab and studied the impacts of technology. She put together a massive archive of hundreds of photos and recorded interviews that she gave me. I have studied the archives and used their contents to make tapestries and write poetry from them, thinking about how to resuscitate this current moment in history. I think it speaks poignantly about the era we now live in with its links to green class and economic exploitation.
To learn more, visit muséedutextileducanada.ca