Meters and meters of blood red yarn envelopes everyday objects like a chandelier or a pair of shoes, obscuring them and sucking these inanimate objects into a world full of symbolism and meaning. This surreal installation has been envisioned by artist Monali Meher and is part of Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Mumbai City Museum’s latest and most ambitious exhibition titled Connecting Threads: Textiles in Contemporary Practice. The exhibition showcases the work of 17 artists, whose artworks reference, complement and blend seamlessly with the existing textile collection at the museum.
Though textiles might seem like a strange object to take centre stage in an exhibition, Tasneem Zakaria Mehta, Managing Trustee and Honorary Director of the museum and co-curator of the exhibition, says, “For ages, artists have used textiles as a medium to express narratives that encompass personal histories, gender, political standpoints and so many other ideas. So it’s important to look at the metaphors and ideas embedded in textile artworks.” A finished fabric is more than just a piece of cloth, because closely connected with it is the material’s history — how it was produced, by whom and for whom — and the answers to these questions throw up complex narratives surrounding hegemony, identity and liberty. “Textiles define culture through the relationship between body, cloth, selfhood, identities and fashion,” avers Tasneem.
Sharmila Samant’s The Mumbai Weave
And so in room after room, one gets to not just view, but also experience these evocative textile artworks. Artist Sharmila Samant’s installation, titled The Mumbai Weave, is a mammoth loom that sits proudly at the centre of the Industrial Arts Gallery. White and gold threads pass through the loom and fuse into a single piece of fabric, signaling the idea of unity and the important role played by diverse cultural identities. At another spot, artist Paula Sengupta’s installation —Rivers of Blood — shines the spotlight on Nakshi Kantha, a traditional quilting practice from Bangladesh. Her installation is closely connected to her personal history and makes us realize how our lives too are made up of several moments and memories, just like a patchwork quilt.
In another room sits artist Rakhi Peswani’s installation called A Monument to Exhaustion. This immersive, cavernous work, which features larger-than-life drops of blood seeping through an expansive patchwork quilt, creates a dreamlike atmosphere in which one feels compelled to think about working conditions of those in the unorganised sector, family relationships and a plethora of other things. Artist Anita Dube’s visceral installation titled Silence (Blood Wedding) presents human bones covered in different fabrics, prodding us to lapse into contemplation about the sensuality of textiles and their relationship with our bodies. Apart from these artists, one can also view the works of Anju Dodhia, Archana Hande, Desmond Lazaro, Lavanya Mani, Manish Nai, Manisha Parekh, Nilima Sheikh, Priya Ravish Mehra, Pushpamala N, Reena Saini Kallat, Shakuntala Kulkarni and Shezad Dawood.
Layered with meaning, these laborious works of love provoke us to re-look at the way we perceive textile artworks since often, they are looked at as being ‘craft or hobby projects’, rather than serious works of art. But artist Paula isn’t offended by these labels, for she feels that the focus should lie on talent and creativity. “Craft is not a bad word, because there are artists who create textiles for a living and their work must not be undermined,” she says. Artist Sharmila echoes this viewpoint by saying, “We need to re-look at definitions and categorizations that separate textile makers from ‘artists’. These categories have come about because of colonization and we need to break them.” Artist Lavanya pipes in by saying, “We need to go beyond these narrow definitions. As artists, our job is to make people see things differently.”