The art of embroidery isn’t new to the country. With the opulent zardosi of Uttar Pradesh to chinkari of Lucknow and the phulkari of Punjab, there are many different embroidery traditions across the country. The coronavirus-induced pandemic brought into focus a new wave of embroidery artists who are taking the traditional art of embroidery and lending it their own contemporary touch. Here are four artists with their own distinct styles of visual grammar that have caught our attention.
Bangalore-based artist Anuradha Bhaumick’s intricate and detailed embroideries are sure to light up anyone’s day. With warm tones and an abundance of greenery in her embroideries, she creates inviting dreamscapes. My favourite being her pieces on women reading by themselves.
Born to Bengali parents, her love affair with embroidery started when she was all of five and down with chickenpox. Recalling how her journey began, she says, “My mom had to keep me away from the playground and handed me an old rumaal (handkerchief) and a sewing kit, and taught me running stitch and lazy daisy. Not only did she manage to keep me from infecting the neighbourhood; she gave me my ikigai (reason for being). Embroidery has been a remedy to my anxieties and anger.”
When I ask her what has brought her the most joy when it comes to embroidery, she says, “I use my mother’s kurta cutouts to collage my pieces. Why my mom’s kurta, you ask? Because she’s 4’11 and store-bought kurtas never fit her. I have been collecting these residual fabrics for years from her tailor, post alterations. All the fabric you see in my art is from her kurtas. Inculcating her lessons with her fabric to create my vision is what brings me the most joy.”
II. Gunjan Thapar
An art history major and embroidery are a match made in heaven. Don’t believe us? Santiniketan-based embroidery artist Gunjan Thapar’s work is sure to have you transfixed. Inspired by figures of the art world and their artworks, they bring to life brooches and earrings inspired by famous art pieces. From Van Gogh to Amrita Shergill; they have them all covered.
In our conversation about her journey, Gunjan says, “I started embroidering in 2019, with an intent to embroider my artist books, but soon, I was embroidering the smallest brooches and bookmarks inspired by Art Historical Masterpieces. I aimed to understand the artists through what they painted in their lifetime, and the support I got for it inspired me to begin ‘Echoes’ in 2020. Since then, I’ve worked on more than 150 embroidered jewellery pieces.”
Further talking about the joy of creating, Gunjan adds, “Embroidery helps me recreate a time I’ve not lived in, but only read about. It opened my artistic dimensions and has further inspired me to embroider the subjects of the present in the aesthetic of the past.”
III. Jahnavee Baruah
Assamese artist Jahnavee Baruah grew up surrounded by tea plantations and paddy fields and next to a grandmother who had a love for embroidering handkerchiefs and tatting laces. She didn’t discover her love for embroidery and textile till she went to art school. Exploring myths and folklore along with a need to document her daily findings, her works draw inspiration from her ancestral land. In an interview for Hyperallergic, she said, “Embroidery feels like a language that my hands speak.” Further adding, “I consider the land my teacher, and I am learning to quietly observe. I enjoy the slowness of the process, somehow it’s like ancestral knowledge being passed down.”
All art is political and using the art of embroidery to create a political statement is Neha aka NehaxStitch, whose work revolves around themes of social justice and human rights. Talking about a Free Palestine, abolishing caste, the ill-effects of capitalism (the most recurring theme in Neha’s work) to discriminatory abortion laws, the embroideries function as an important piece of art in the realms of political and social activism.
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