Tapestry: Personal Threads

Telling our stories is a means of locating ourselves and of understanding who we are within the folds of a larger narrative.

Gopika Nath Dec 18, 2019 - 6 min read

Tapestry: Personal Threads Primary Image

Dregs in Your Teacup – III by Gopika Nath. Photography, digital printing, tearing, layering, stitching, embroidery. Cotton voile, gauze bandage, cotton floss, cotton-polyester thread. India. 2010. 7 x 7 inches (17.8 x 17.8 cm). Photograph by Amitabha Bhattacharya and © Gopika Nath.

Personal Threads is an endeavor to read our histories (both personal and political) as if they were interconnected pieces of a quilt—each one’s individual blocks sewn together to form a larger picture. As a textile artist living and working in Goa, India, I recently started this online project inviting people to share their stories and their work.

Telling our stories is a means of locating ourselves and of understanding who we are within the folds of a larger narrative. Often, who we are and what we do emerges from the people, things, and places that played some role in our past. We may claim different nationalities and religions, but the DNA of our lives, though complex, connects us. Charting this symbiosis is significant in devising a more meaningful existence on this planet, and it encourages a deeper consideration of the intricately coded visual language of traditional cultures. Through this project, I envision a relinking to the selfless space from which the traditions of these cultures, particularly those of the Indian aesthetic, arise. Pioneering historian and philosopher of Indian art A. K. Coomaraswamy (1877–1947) tells us, “The artist is not a special kind of [person], but every [person] is a special kind of artist.”

Our lived experiences are innately linked to the art we make. In essays that you may read at www.gopikanathstitchjournal.blogspot.com, artists and writers share some profound connections between their experiences and their art. Maggie Baxter opens the narrative project with an engaging account of rebelling against influences of the past, without succeeding, but at the same time continuing to evolve in her life and art. Reverend Annabel Barbara’s story about quilting during times of personal and professional challenges as a hospital chaplain in a deprived ex-fishing town is filled with hope, inspiration, and an understanding of how the power of stitching can make the human more humane. In a tribute to her grandmother, Suzy Singh describes her realization of how knitting can be a symbol of endless love and compassion. She shares how this insight both propelled her to knit and inspired her evolution as a healer.

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Journal and sketchbook cover by Annabel Barber. Embroidery. Cotton fabric, shells, threads, sequins, glass beads. England. 2018. Photograph © Annabel Barber and courtesy of Gopika Nath.

Priya Ravish Mehra, who recently passed away, was inspired by the art of the rafoogars, or darners, in Najibabad, India. She wrote of consciously undergoing personal “darning,” experiencing its power in tackling her cancer for more than a decade. And Uma Nair highlights the role of fabric in the life and art of the sculptor Louise Bourgeois, who not only hoarded clothes and household items to transform these “lived materials” into art but attempted “psychological repair” through the act of sewing.

I draw inspiration for this project from my own work and from my evolution as a designer, an artist, and a writer. My creative expression has grown from crafting functional items to creating work that is both rooted in the personal and consciously connected to the spiritual. In ancient Indian art practices, devotion was central to all activities of life, including the arts. I believe in this quality of reverence—based on understanding universal principles governing ancient practices that affirmed divinity in life and art. This quality persists but has changed over time.

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Whole (detail) by Maggie Baxter. Knitting. Strips of block-printed silk. India and Australia. Photograph by Rob Frith Acorn Studio, © Maggie Baxter, and courtesy of Maggie Baxter and Gopika Nath.

I invite you to share your journey through anecdotes that show the enrichment of your imaginative tapestry. Tell of the trials and tribulations, family sagas, and memories that connect you, the person, with your art making. Recount the gestures, colors, materials, and subject matters that are a driving force in your work and reflect your human experience. Describe how the making of your art—its craft and expression—transforms the visceral emotions, as well as other elements that are central to your visual expression.

One of the challenges I have faced in this project has been to persuade the more visually communicative to put their stories into words. In this regard, I have and will continue to support those who would like to participate with my guidance and encouragement to bring forth the key features of their narratives. The process can be challenging, but with patience and a willingness to work together, we achieve results that readers appreciate and are encouraged by.

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Untitled by Priya Ravish Mehra. Indigo fabric with paper pulp. India, 2016. 11 x 8½ inches (27.9 x 21.6 cm). Photograph © Priya Ravish Mehra and courtesy of Gopika Nath.

If you would like to share your story as part of the Personal Threads narrative, I would be delighted to hear from you at [email protected]. All stories and queries are welcome. I believe that every life and its creative outpourings are laced with tales and wisdom worth sharing.

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