Somewhere between the 1820s and 1920s, European imperialists facilitated the transport of over 3.5 million Indians into the African continent through indentured labour, to cultivate the land that European farmers dispossessed natives of. Even today this history of indentured labour has left behind a tragic, violent legacy. Displaced, erased, and censored into assimilation, the South African Indian heritage still continues to be invalidated or unconsidered in mainstream discourses.
In an act of healing that intergenerational trauma, family trauma and trauma of displacement, Talia Ramkilawan, a queer South African Indian artist and high school teacher is creating a visual presence of the ‘Indian experience’ that disrupts linear narratives using rug-hooking, a process in which rugs are made by pushing loops of yarn through a stiff woven base using a punch needle.
Born in Cape Town and raised by her single mother in Nelspruit, Talia returned to Cape Town in 2015 to major in sculpture at the Michaelis School of Fine Art. The discovery of rug hooking in her fourth year of university was a breakthrough moment. She immersed herself in this craft and, through this medium, she was able to create an intimacy and honesty that felt refreshing. Talia describes the process of making her “tapestry adjacent” art as a process of healing. Her work is inspired by her family dynamics and her own experience with South Asian identity, culture, and trauma.
Fierce women are at the center of many of her tapestries. Queer, Indian, and femmes are a representation of the intersection of Talia’s identities, an attempt to take back control of her own narrative. She breaks down the walls constructed through western dualities with pieces that both intend to shock and subvert the stereotypes of her lived experience as a queer Indian womxn.
Weaving and knitting has generally been considered a woman's work in society and Talia through her practice reappropriates it in an empowering and purposefully defiant way. Her choice of medium also depicts the soft tone in which the artist expresses instead of metal, wood, or clay which is commonly associated with sculptural work. “I have always believed that disruption does not always have to be loud. It can be soft and meditative", she shares with BKhz.
The layers of identities woven into Talia's tapestries are an affirmation and gentle reclamation of her place in the world, playing on the duality of how the world sees her vs how she sees herself in the journey of self-love.