In an exciting new exhibition, a range of garments fuse the traditional and the modern to make a statement about life in India
“Journeys are the midwives of thought… large thoughts at times requiring large views, new thoughts, new places”.
Road Trip is the visual narrative of a journey that artists Ann-Maree Reaney and Jill Kinnear took through India, Morocco and the USA. Reaney, a visual artist based in Brisbane, and Kinnear, a textile artist based in the USA, used photographic stills and video footage to produce garments that combine Indian history and mythology.
The artists’ most recent collection was partly inspired by a journey through Rajasthan and Gujurat in Northern India. It combines high tech, digital textiles with traditional handcrafts.
“Travelling through India, our main focus was finding and observing textiles,” says Kinnear. “We went to Bhuj in Gujurat and out to villages to observe different processes, says Kinnear. “Travelling in India there’s rubbish and roadside trash. At Khamir craft centre in Gujurat they encouraged people to bring in plastics and foils such as biscuit wrappers where the shredded plastics are woven into fabric. Jaipur Jacket incorporates recycled foil woven into the fabric, as tiny areas of recycled biscuit wrapper are revealed within the weave”.
“Antique and traditional fabric such as the Rabari mirror embroidery around base of jacket, matches with the contemporary yellow biscuit wrapper, Kinnear went on to say. “We loved how something so contemporary was combined with traditionally produced fabric and trim”.
Gold trimmings used on the sleeves of the jacket were found in Jaipur and paired with jodphurs made by a tailor who specialises in polo pants. The LED belt buckle was a reference to the trucks that dominate Indian roads. It replays the message “an act of faith” questioning the Western idea of going to India for a spiritual journey. It references the idea in Jack Keroac’s ‘50s novel On the Road where the journey, not the destination, is the experience.
It also gently questions the Westerners’ frenetic search for meaning, which sometimes collides with the reality of India. Reaney describes the way Indian daily life operates, particularly the traffic, as an act of faith. “I see a beauty in the way people survive and respect the fact that India allows a cow to walk across the road and survive the chaos, while trucks weave onto the wrong side of the road,” she says.
Kachchh and Silk bandhani incorporates the exquisite resist dye work of Khatri Alimohamed Isha from Bhuj, a skill passed down through generations of his family. Plain white silk is pinched and bound with thread to produce intricate and traditional patterns. When the fabric is dyed, the thread “resists” the colour and the result is a pattern of white dots.
“It was a privilege to work with Indian artisans,” says Kinnear. “They make such beautiful work and there is a revival in the popularity of traditional handcrafts and a desire to preserve that legacy”. Silk bandhani was designed by the artists to take traditional fabric and garments and put a modern spin on them. The garment includes hotpants and a silk organza overskirt made by Lucy -Belle Rayner. Indian Trucks focuses on the road trucks that move supplies throughout the country. The dresses are made of images found on the beautifully decorated trucks, but also reflect the trucks’ disregard of the road rules. The artists say, “with long black tassels and cabins adorned as temple shrines with flowers, they are an icon that transgresses all highway lines and rules… with but an act of faith”.
Road Trip is not just about the sketches and research the artists undertook, it’s also an expression of the experience of traveling through India and their feelings about the country. It was Kinnear’s first trip to India.
“I loved it, Kinnear says. “It’s a complete bombardment – every sense is aware – it’s overwhelming. Patterning and colour are my focus and there’s so much there to record and see. I left with that sense of being bombarded in the most glorious way, a cacophony of colours, smells and sounds”.
“It changes your self-view,” says Reaney. “The country is so seductive and harsh and it makes you reflect on your own society. You can’t judge by Western standards, you must accept and look. It’s an incredible country; the technology is so advanced yet the most stunning traditional work comes out of places like Gujurat”.
There’s a collective cultural memory and textiles reflect the meaning of the culture. The artists were talking to a group of women who produced some of the embroidery and they asked their interpreter to tell the women how beautiful their work was.
“You have no need to tell us, we understand how they feel, we see it in their eyes,” was the reply.
Kinnear and Reaney feel that through art and their travel in India they found an understanding between people that transcends language barriers. Creativity is a common language that produces joy and respect.