Fabricating Power: Balinese Textiles as Transformation in the Mead and Bateson Collection
A postdoctoral research project (2016-18) in museum anthropology that explores how cloth and clothing, collected by anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson in Bali, Indonesia, in the 1930s, act as embodied means of transformation and power through their symbolic, aesthetic, and praxeological value.
Exhibit Curation and Research Project Summary, Bard Graduate Center-American Museum of Natural History: Western scholars and artists converged on the tropical island of Bali, Indonesia, in the first half of the 20th century attracted by its unique culture and vibrant artistic practices. This exhibition considers the making and use of textiles as ceremonial objects that operate within a unique Balinese Hindu cosmology while exploring the role of textiles as symbols of cultural resilience and continuity. On view will be exquisite and rare pieces assembled from collections in the United States, including examples from the American Museum of Natural History that were collected by anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson during their fieldwork in Bali. Deriving their aesthetic and ritual powers from techniques of fabrication and use in various lifecycle ceremonies, these textiles also serve as records of an important period in Balinese history. Drawing on information from the 1930s and recent research, the exhibition presents an overview of Balinese textiles and encourages visitors to consider the value of these objects as they are made and used today.
Art & Indian Diasporic Identity
Patchwork is a fabric created by assembling and stitching together pieces of textiles like ‘Madras’ checks. Within South Asia, patchwork production is done in India and Bangladesh because of the low labor costs. In India it is produced in cottage-industry style factories like Veda Patch Works (VPW) located in Chennai – a city formerly known as Madras. The fabric is made on auto and power looms in Salem, Tamil Nadu or, if the buyer demands it, imported from China for a lower price. VPW makes lightweight fabrics for the summer season and flannel twill fabrics for the winter season; end products range from men's, women's and children's clothing to quilts. The fabric is sent from VPW to manufacturers who use it to stitch Western clothing for American buyers like Brooks Brothers and Gap.
Ratha Yatra at the Festival of India
"Moving Home" Art Installation
Through its stylistic and material flexibility art synthesizes differences of local and global, past and present, sacred and secular, classical and popular and 'Indian' and 'non-Indian'. By studying diasporic Indian self-representation in the West through its visual and material culture, I will explore the socio-cultural factors that shape its identity as a global or transnational community. The core questions behind this research are: (i) How does the Indian diaspora use art to negotiate its identity within the West? (ii) How does art embody processes of cultural transformation, recycling and adaptation?
Diasporic embodiments of cultural transition and translation include hybridization of clothing styles, images, materials and rituals. This phenomena relates to ways of seeing and perceiving among Indians in the U.K., U.S. and India. Through my research I plan to show that aesthetic choices are creative acts that transform and recapitulate identity and that the art and socio-cultural mechanics of Indian diaspora are related to each other.
Skin Deep: MFA Thesis & Artist Statement
In Western philosophy, Descartes formulated the mind-body
schism in the form in which it exists today by identifying the mind
with intellect, self-awareness, and the immaterial and
the body with imagination, sensation and the material. This has led to the interpretation of the body as shallow and the corresponding evaluation of certain people, objects and surfaces as superficial.
and postcolonial literature has subsequently challenged the assumptions
of this philosophical inheritance, with its privileging of the mind
for its association with reason and masculinity, and the co-relation
of skin/body with brute matter and femininity. However, the legacy of such dualistic thinking whether expressed through the surface vs. depth,
mind vs. body, or theory vs. practice divide can engender an ambivalence about the role of the body.
Through self-portraits and everday objects, I explore my subjectivity and attempt to locate it within constructs of gender and race.
Tribal Identity And Alienation Among The 'Rathwa': Undergraduate Video Thesis
Made for Gurjarvani, a Jesuit communication organization, the video traces the influence of modernity and development on the Rathwa, a tribe in Western India, through the
symbolism of their 'Pithoro' wall paintings. The video deals with the changes in
occupation, belief systems and erosion of tribal identity.
The issue of tribal alienation is a complex one; the video
serves as an overview of the process of cultural homogenization in tribal India using the example of the Rathwas.
Objects and Global Consumption
From Chennai to 'Madras': Patchwork Fabric Production
Photo essay on Veda Patch Works, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
According to Mr. Vasudevan (owner of VPW) the U.S. government does not place import levies or quantity restrictions on patchwork goods as it is deemed a 'traditional' American item associated with Native American culture. VPW has a large catalog of samples that have been developed over the years for their various buyers. In some instances pattern suggestions are made to prospective buyers based on this knowledge. Each sample adheres to its respective quality specification for the number of stitches per inch, color and sun fastness and shrinkage. The thread is sourced from Senbagam Textiles in Tirupur, Tamil Nadu.
The photo essay provides an overview of the process of making patchwork fabric. Stitching the fabric does not demand a high level of craftsmanship but is time consuming and involves a number of stages. 200-300 patches or squares are needed to make enough fabric (2.5 m) for a shirt; 15 rows of patchwork are required to make a 44" wide yardage. The technology used in the factory ranges from scissors to improvised bandsaws to cut fabric quickly and consistently. Sewing on sergers and sewing machines is done mostly by women while the cutting of fabric is done by men. Quality inspection is done by both men and women. The two factory spaces that I visited were located in residential areas in Chennai and were utilized for a variety of functions including production, storage and administration. The various stages of production were staggered across the two factories. In the first factory there were approximately 5 men working on preparing, folding and cutting fabric with quality checks being divided between another 5 men and 5 women. In the second factory there were approximately 17 seamstresses and 2 female quality inspectors along with 5 men who were working on both the sewing and cutting stages. Additional male labor was available for moving incoming fabric and outgoing patchwork yardage.
The period during which I visited the factories preceded the Tamil harvest festival of Pongal in January when most workers return to their villages for the holidays. Due to this I could not visit the garment manufacturers who are located in Chennai and Bangalore. Although incomplete in this respect the photo essay sheds light on the important preliminary stage of developing the patchwork for a 'patchwork' garment. I am grateful to Mr. Vasudevan and Mr. Varadarajan for showing me around Veda Patch Works.