When textile meets geometry, it can engender interesting creations. Visiting an exhibition by textile artist Neha Puri Dhir can be a memorable experience as you will find ‘textile art’ instead of canvases. In conversation with Indrani Mukherjee, Puri Dhir talks about the basic philosophies that drive her minimalistic art, choosing the obscure path of textile art in a country obsessed with paintings, her experience of working with weavers, and how the textile industry in India has potential if it can adapt to changes in society.
Edited Excerpts from an interview.
When did your love affair with textile art start?
Looking back, my tryst with textiles began in 2003. As a student at the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, I visited Paithan, a village in Maharashtra, as a part of our study. The intricacy and diligence of the weavers left a lasting impression on me. Even before the visit concluded, I had found my calling in textile design.
In the years that followed, I exposed myself to various fabric construction techniques across India and other parts of the world, such as Italy and London. And through reading, looking, learning and teaching, I travelled further afield to Japan and America. This decade-long repertoire of knowledge and experience has helped my textile art practice.
Self-expression through the medium of textiles always synchronised with my thoughts. The fragility or impermanence of the material is so congruent to the unpredictability of our lives.
What are the influences that have shaped your aesthetics?
Life in its varied manifestations has been my muse, provoking me to think and introspect. Interactions with my surroundings intrigue me. They trigger a quest to discover the basic underlying concepts and eventually to figure out their relevance and application to my work.
At NID, the influence of the Bauhaus and Ulm — German art and design schools — was predominant. I found the works of Josef and Anni Albers particularly inspiring. My travels during higher studies in Italy and London greatly influenced my perceptions, and definitely shaped my understanding of the surrounding. My work is an outcome of an urge, accumulated over years, to express complicated ideas in a simple fashion.
Later, my stints in the automobile industry with some Japanese automotive giants such as Suzuki, Toyota and Honda, introduced me to Japanese aesthetics. This experience made me continue my research and I slowly started appreciating Japanese philosophies like Wabi-Sabi — an aesthetic principle that is based on impermanence and imperfection. It beautifully simplifies the most complex phenomena in nature. The uncertainty, which is an integral part of Shibori — a Japanese tie-dying technique — is a beautiful facet in itself. As an artist, I crave this very uncertainty and imperfection because it enables me to create pieces that are one of a kind.
Could you talk us through the age-old technique of resist dyeing and your understanding of it?
I got introduced to the wide gamut of resist dyeing techniques in 2003, while undergoing a two-week Shibori Workshop with Yoshiko Wada and Jack Lenor Larsen. I then realised the ceaseless potential of the techniques. Also, the abstract nature of resist dyeing intrigued me and I continued to try out my own innovative ways within this domain.
For the past three years, I have been experimenting with stitch-resist technique. It involves a laborious process of stitching, dyeing, discharging, overdyeing and then unstitching. Using this method, I created a series of 49 intricate artworks and showcased them as amoolya at the India International Centre (IIC), in August 2014. This year I showcased 34 of my new works as Shunya at the Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre.
SHUNYA revolves around monochrome. How does colour feature in your imagination?
Shunya grows further into the stich resist technique with its theme being the exploration of the void. For instance, a triptych titled ‘Order in Chaos’ portrays the order, which is always present in the chaos of life, but is often not perceived. Almost all the artworks are in monochrome. The basic colours of black and white (also beige in this case) lyrically depict nothingness.