The fabric of life

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A new exhibition brings examples of the high quality textile crafts of India to Perth, writes PRIYADARSHINI CHIDAMBARANATHAN
When an exhibition on Indian textiles features a photograph of a young woman in a brightly coloured saree standing out against a drab background, you are sure to be intrigued.
Unfolding: New Indian Textiles is an exhibition of contemporary Indian textiles at the Fremantle Arts Centre which opened on 1 Aug.

The exhibition has been curated by Maggie Baxter, a Perth-based textile artist who has been working with Indian textiles for over 25 years.
Maggie has worked extensively with artists in Kutch, Gujarat to create her textiles, and met textile historian Rahul Jain during one of her visits there. He suggested she write a book on contemporary Indian textiles and this exhibition was born out of her efforts with the book.
The WA launch of her book Unfolding: Contemporary Indian Textiles also coincided with the launch of this exhibition.

The work featured is from new and emerging designers in India who work with traditional artisans and weavers to create contemporary designs.
The exhibition features 25 artists and designers with some well-known names including Aneeth Arora, Mithu Sen and Monika Correa. Three of the participating artists – Aneeth Arora, Bappaditya Biswas and Mithu Sen – have travelled to Perth to be a part of the ongoing events here, and talk about their work.

The designers have all been chosen on the basis of their work with handlooms. They are mostly small set-ups working directly with the weavers.
“About eighty five percent of the pieces featured here are hand loom,” Maggie explains. “The embroidered artworks from Playclan are hand drawn, digitally manipulated, screen printed and then finished by hand.”
Even before you enter the gallery, you hear singing, while a loom clacks in the back ground. The Sound of Singing is a video installation by Gopika Nath featuring an artisan singing as she weaves her traditional craft.

The colours hit you as you enter – both on the fabrics and the walls themselves. Screen prints by design group Playclan on the wall feature a stylised graphical rendering of sadhus on the Varanasi ghats as well as a Rajasthani man and woman.

The artwork, screen prints embellished with embroidered beads and threads, is playful yet visually arresting.

The first room has a collection of stitched apparel and scarves with a variety of embroidery, applique work and tie-dye.
It has some of the visitors amazed at the level of craftsmanship. They stand before a multi-hued dress, looking almost reverently at the intricate applique work. “I just can’t get past this,” one of them says quietly.
The next room features sarees and uncut cloth. Walking in reminds you of a saree shop in India, with drapes of every hue hanging from the walls and the ceiling.
The saris come from many traditions across India from ikat to bandhini to jamdhani on silk, tussar and cotton. The designs are mostly modern and uncluttered, appealing to a western aesthetic.

There were a few art installations as well, most notably one by acclaimed artist Mithu Sen. Titled Once Upon a Sari it is a collection of old sarees and hair that have been fashioned to resemble the traditional plaits of Indian women. This allows us to think of those women who might have once worn and used them, and imagine their daily lives.
Another novel display was of a dog standing with one leg raised as if in the act of defecation, made of fibreglass, fabric and glue by Jagannath Panda.
Another video installation documents the entire process of making hand stitched jeans, right from dyeing the yarn to putting in the final finishing touches, all done by hand.

Maggie has travelled extensively for this project spanning two and a half years. From Gujarat to Bangalore, Calcutta, Mumbai and Delhi her search for contemporary textiles and designers has been unrelenting and interesting judging by her enthusiasm and the contents of her book.
The response to the exhibition has been overwhelming according to Maggie. “There were 700 people at the opening, and 400 to 500 on the Saturday and Sunday following,” she says.
Does she have any personal favourites? “Everyone keeps asking me this question. It’s like being asked to choose a favourite child,” she laughs. “I like Pero because I can wear them both here and in India. I like Playclan because of the bold imagery, bright colours, and inimitable way of linking village traditions with new technology.”
The exhibition offers a peek into the world of Indian textiles and emerging Indian designers in the field.
Unfolding: New Indian Textiles is on at the Fremantle Arts Centre from 1 August to 19 September, 2015

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