"I don’t think that my work is actually effectively dealing with history. I think of my work as subsumed by history or consumed by history." —Kara Walker
New episode from Art21’s Exclusive series: An in-depth look at the creation of Kara Walker’s monumental public project for Creative Time, A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby (2014), at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn, NY.
IMAGES: Production stills from the Art21 Exclusive episode, Kara Walker: “A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby”. © Art21, Inc. 2014.
I haven’t been moved by art like this in a long time. So happy I got to see it.
10 Drawn Portraits: A Guest Photoset
I’ve long admired Helen Birch whose blog DrawDrawDraw keeps me inspired with beautiful and interesting works on paper, so I was very excited when she agreed to do a guest post for AndFreedomFor. Behold her selection of 10 Drawn Portraits.
In a bit of a departure, AndFreedomFor looks at some incredible work at the intersection of design, art and social entrepreneurship. New Delhi based artist Swati Kalsi’s pieces in collaboration with the Sujani artisans of Bihar are as important as they are visually stunning
AndFreedomFor How did you get into textiles? What drove your interest there?
Swati Kalsi Growing up I watched my mother’s keen eye and efforts to make things beautiful. Be it textiles, clothes, interiors etc. Planning and creating anything new was always an exciting family exercise. That must have first triggered the interest. Extremely passionate, I went on to study fashion. I was always fascinated by traditional textiles and fortunately the blend (textile and fashion) became more and more apparent with time.
For six years I worked with handcrafted textiles in different capacities. Later, I was fortunate to be a part of a World Bank Project. The program gave me a unique platform to work closely with traditionally skilled artisans. The engagement was enriching design-wise and a humanistic experience. I fell in love with it.
Today, I find myself working with traditional artisans, attempting one off pieces of garments that highlight their exceptional skills and hand craftsmanship.
So, textiles somehow have been an integral part of growing up and professional interest.
AFF Who are the artisans you work with? How were they chosen for your work?
SK I work with Sujani artisans from Bihar, India. I worked with them through the World Bank Project for about 4 years and continued to work with them after the project discontinued.
AFF Could you talk a bit about your drive to bring out “the artist in the artisan?” Where does this come from? What is the difference between an artist and an artisan to you?
SK When I started off, my sole objective was to create pieces that only hands can create, that the machines can’t replicate, to highlight the value only hand craftsmanship can create. This idea itself triggered a beautiful journey.
I realised a hand has a brain of it’s own. It can think and create surfaces that neither programmed machines nor other human hands can recreate.
And a deeper involvement of the traditional artisans in intense interactive creative workshops and processes, brings about the artist in them.
Over intriguing give and take and inconceivable twists and turns, emerge the pieces and a unique design vocabulary that connotes timeless, understated elegance, highlighting the quirks and anomalies arising out of the process of creating.
So, my efforts are largely focused on marrying the unmatched skills of the traditional artisans with an aesthetic spirit.
Most artisans in India are unable to discover or kindle the artist in them because survival itself is the first, big concern. If they do get a chance, a few fortunate ones do become artists and many more can.
AFF With so many designer pieces machine-made or outsourced to ill-paid factory workers, hand craft-work is “indeed a luxury.” Do you think design will eventually return to this more human and humane place?
SK With the world we live in, design will always dwell on several different planes simultaneously. As each will address a certain need or objective.
A lot of efforts today, however, are directed towards making the trade more and more fair and humane. I hope our efforts intensify in the future and bring about a visible change.
AFF Is this a feminist pursuit?
SK It is incidental that the craft I work with is a women’s craft. I like it more when women look at it as a source of empowerment or self determination.
AFF What are your design influences? The embroidery is very akin to drawing, or more specifically mark-making - is this your background?
SK My inspirations are varied and transient but nature and natural processes are my big love. The designs are probably an extension of the same.
And the surface created in Sujani (embroidery tradition from Bihar), out of simple running stitches, moving in transient intensities has it’s own inherent character.
All of this works together does what it does.
AFF Are your pieces available for purchase?
SK The pieces are one of a kind and are available for purchase, on enquiry.
For more information on Swati Kalsi and her work, see here.