Wednesday 1 November 2023

British Textile Biennial - Fragments of Our Time - The Whitaker - Part 3

Yasmin Jahan Nupur - I dreamed about walking in the sky - 2019

This is my final blogpost about exhibitions that were part of the British Textile Biennial (BTB).  I have saved this post till last because Fragments of Our Time remains on at The Whitaker in Rawtenstall, Lancashire until Sunday 10 December 2023.  The exhibition, curated by Uthra Rajgopal, showcases contemporary textile art by 17 South Asian artists from UK, USA, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh.  

We are told...

"The materials, techniques and concepts highlight themes of labour, networks, migration, spiritual and emotional connections to textiles. From natural fibres and natural dyes to found objects, discarded clothing and debris, this exhibition presents an extraordinary display of woven, stitched, dyed, collaged, and felted artworks, ranging from the immersive to the delicate."

You can listen to the Cloth Cultures podcast where Uthra Rajgopal talks to writer, broadcaster and fashion historian, Amber Butchart, about this exhibition here.

I was particularly struck by Yasmin Jahan Nupur's piece above as I think it perfectly sums up the current state of the world and especially resonates here in the UK, where "Everything is falling apart".

Liaqat Rasul - How much does it cost?

I think Liaqat Rasul's How much does it cost? (above) was one of my favourite pieces.  It was specially commissioned for this year's British Textile Biennial. The constant movement gives different views of the piece which was made from an astonishing array or things e.g. stethoscope, coffee stirers, Bangladeshi stamp and banknote, nails, shoe, fabric, string, cable ties, cardboard, yarn and wire to name a few.  Rasul uses found objects in a colourful and playful way to make complex sculptures.  This rotating mobile conjures up a face and mobile faces are a recurrent theme in his work.

Rasul, a gay, Welsh, dyslexic, Pakistani man living in London, tells us that he likes to explore the diversity of people in the UK through his artwork and that his work acts as therapy for his experience of depression which also inspires his work.  The use of unusual materials in surprising ways allude to different and varying emotions and the multicultural traditions that provoke them.  He listed ingredients for his piece.  They were delicate, glory, pride, unique, playful, "way of doing", special, thoughtful.  He wants us to think analogue and embrace our support networks as we all need each other.

Gurjeet Singh - Untitled - 2023

Gurjeet Singh is based in Chandigarh, India. His soft creatures are inspired by conversations with friends and strangers.  He likes to work with found objects, discarded textiles and leftovers from his sister's stitching business.  This particular piece is made from cotton, linen, polyester, cotton embroidery, beads and buttons.  

I found his sculptures full of colour and texture and quite playful.  They were captivating.  I would have loved to see more but could only find two.

Boshudhara Mukerjee - Phoenix - 2022-23

Boshudhara Mukerjee lives and works in Bengaluru (formerly known as Bangalore) in southern India.  She cuts strips of fabric, garments, painted canvases and weaves, stitches and crochets them into these large scale net-like sculptures/hangings making "webs of the wardrobe as archive".  

There were several pieces of Mukerjee's work around the gallery and I loved them all especially the colourful ones.  Each seemed like a patchwork of woven pieces, stitched or tied together.

Robina Akhtar Ullah - Samaa - 2022

Robina Akhtar Ullah - Samaa (detail of front and back)

Robina Akhtar Ullah is a multi-disciplinary artist based in Manchester.  
Her work draws on her British-Pakistani heritage and references fragmented memories, an exploration of loss, borders and belonging. The work shown here is patchwork, specifically paper piecing and stitch.  The title Samaa is Arabic for sky.  She tells us that in Islam the sky is an integral part of religious practice and her observations of the sky led her to think that it does not discrimate in terms borders or ownership of space. Her colour palette is informed by photographs she took of the sky at different moments.  

I liked the use of paper and fabric in this piece and loved the colours.  I also found the back interesting as I always want to discover how things are constructed.

Dhara Mehrotra - Of Warps and Wefts VIII - 2023

Dhara Mehrotra lives and works in Bengaluru, India.  The piece above is made from acrylics, jute coir and inks on canvas.  Her current work explores mycellium (fungi) networks under the soil.  Drawing on scientific research (which is only just beginning to understand these networks and their relationship to trees) and observation, she presents us with a mesh of fibre and line.  

I was drawn to the colours and textures of Mehrotra's pieces.

Sibaprasad Karchaudhuri - Sun and Moon and other elements - 1990-95

Sibaprasad Karchaudhuri is based in Santiniketan in West Bengal, NE India and is a painter, designer and weaver. The piece above is a tapestry made from cotton, wool and hemp and is abstract in nature. His inspriration come from the way we live in and with the natural world.

I loved the texture in this piece.

Smriti Dixit - Savage Flower - 2022

Smriti Dixit, based in  Mumbai, India uses recycling in her work.  The piece shown above is made by handknitting plastic ties from the fashion industry.  We are told that she likes to give visibility to the techniques and proceses of women's work.  This work has been rendered invisible by the patriarchy which still see a division between labour in the home (female) and labour in the workplace (male).  

I was fascinated by the innovative use of this waste product and how it was put together.

Ujjal Dey - Medioli 1 - 2022

Ujjal Dey is based in Santiniketan, India.  Fascinated by colour, he creates his own natural dyes and pigments from locally available sources. He colours his fabric using handpainting, dyeing, resist, and print making techniques to create large wallhangings.  

I found his work vibrant and striking.

Bhasha Chakrabati - Marketing Distress (detail) - 2019

Basha Chakrabati lives and works in New Haven, USA. She critically examines the global production of garments and the aesthetics of distressed clothes.  I loved this project which was mostly detailed through photographs although also included receipts and mended jeans.  For this project, she bought a series of jeans that had been distressed showing rips and holes, mended them and then returned the to the retailer for a refund on the basis that they were unsuitable. This was all documented through photos (before and after the mends - see above) and receipts.  She was able to get refunds from all but one of the retailers.  The one who refused said she had devalued the product saying she had "damaged" the jeans and they were "unsaleable".

I thought this was hilarious.  I know that ripped or torn clothing can be seen as worthless but deliberately damaged clothing has recently had a certain amount of cachet from designer labels through to the High St.  My own opinion is that this is a ludicrous trend,  insulting not only to the buyers of these products but also to the people who naturally have this clothing through wear and can't afford anything else.  As a fan of mending, both visible and invisible, I thought Chakrabati was adding significant value to the jeans she returned.  I thought the whole project was excellent in highlighting what a ridiculous world fashion can be.

Yasmin Jahan Nupur - I dreamed about walking in the sky - 2019

Yasmin Jahan Nupur is based in Dhaka, Bangladesh and is interested in the ecological and community aspects of life which I think the two pieces I have chosen to show here, illustrate perfectly.  I chose these two because they particularly resonated with me.

Her work is on handwoven and hand dyed muslin with embroidered cotton text.  There were a series of panels throughout the exhibition with text in English, Bengali and Persian.  She hopes to increase understanding between people of different backgrounds.

Shrujan Living and Learning Design Centre 

I am finishing with a piece of traditional textile work from Kutch.  The Shrujan Living and Learning Design Centre is in Kutch, Gujarat, NW India and is a dedicated museum and studio for the living crafts of the area.  It has an extensive textile archive.  The organisation works with many communities and artisans to keep these skills alive and help them earn a decent living.

This silk panel was made up of hand embroidered squares each representing a different community in Kutch, who can be identified by their stitched motifs.  I really admired the skill and detail in this piece.  This is something traditionalists will particularly enjoy studying.

I really loved this exhibition.  I think we are more used to seeing traditional textiles from South Asia so it was particularly interesting to see examples of the contemporary textile art South Asian artists are producing.  I haven't featured all the artists or all the work of the artists I have featured. If you want to see everything - go visit, there's still time!

The Whitaker has a carpark, a nice cafe (good scones!) and a small shop.  It also has a permanent collection which is worth your time too!

The British Textile Biennial was great.  I didn't get to see everything but what I did, I have blogged about (see my 2 previous blogposts), and you can read about those exhibitions and the rest on the BTB website as well.  I think the BTB was an amazing organisational feat, with a lot of thought provoking material and interesting techniques in a slew of venues across Lancashire only one of which I'd visited before.  A definite date for the diary in 2 years time!

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