An ongoing art project called Tarpaulin Tapestries is adding vibrancy to the otherwise drab tarpaulin sheets that canopy Mumbai.
The blue tarpaulins covering the rooftops of Mumbai’s ever-growing slums have become embedded in the landscape of the Maximum City, so much so that these tarpaulin rooftops are akin to the dirty-blue sea of Mumbai. However, changing that scenery, an ongoing art project called Tarpaulin Tapestries is adding vibrancy to these drab stretches of polyester.
Spearheaded by Aubrey Roemer, a professional artist and MFA candidate at Pratt Institute in New York, Tarpaulin Tapestries is an art project in collaboration with I was a Sari, a city-based organisation that upcycles old saris to provide livelihood to women. Working with the women artisans from I was a Sari, Aubrey has produced tarpaulins layered with flower motifs made out of printing, cutting and sewing of old saris.
Aubrey is known internationally for her art collaborations with communities, using upcycled materials, particularly fabrics that would get thrown out otherwise. Talking about why she chose to pair tarpaulins with saris for this project, she says, “I usually use the fabrics of whatever specific community that I am working with. Here, I am working with women using old saris and tarpaulin because I don’t think too many things speak about India better than tarpaulins and saris, especially in Mumbai.” She further adds that tarpaulin was her preferred choice of medium because not only do they represent something very close to the lower socio-economical demographics, but also in her art studios the blue tarpaulins play a significant role. Further, the multi-coloured slums of Asalpha and the patterned ceilings of kaali-peeli inspired her. “I just had this vision of a sea of tarps covered in embroidered saris like a sea filled with corals,” she laughs.
Moreover in these art pieces, the Brooklyn based artist has incorporated the imagery of flora and fauna. Talking about it she says, “I wanted to make it feminine and softer, because tarpaulin sounds very industrial and manly. It is also to give vegetation to areas that do not have splendid gardens. That being said, the flowers I have chosen are rose, lotus and lilies.”
While Aubrey spent one and a half years conceptualising, researching, and streamlining her project, the workshops that she is conducting with the women artisans in Thane and Jogeshwari are proving out to be rewarding for her. “I teach them printing and painting, and they teach me embroidery and stitching, and we work together. It is incredibly beautiful. In particularly at one workshop, we had women of all faiths and ages, together, and everyone was working creatively and in peace. It felt very Utopian, in an otherwise dark global time for most of us,” she shares. She further adds that these women are quick learners, efficient collaborators and hard workers.
Despite finding fabric as a metaphor for human existence, Aubrey does not want her art to be politicised or fall in the purview of her trying to uplift the community. “The project is not about coming and giving something from a point of privilege. It is about community collaboration across the cultures. It is about people coming together to make stuff, share skills, and upcycling materials, and making art in a functional way,” she concludes.
The exhibition of the installions will be held at Piramal Musuem of Art from Decemer 18 to 31.