Thursday, April 26, 2012

Re-imagined Dreams

Last month, I worked on a narrative textile installation (4mts. x 6mts.) for the first time in my life. It was commissioned by Sabari Majumdar, a graduate of Goldsmith University and an alumni of National Institute of Design, India ( for the Alchemy Festival 2012 at the Southbank Centre, London. The installation was a culmination of the numerous design workshop and storytelling sessions Sabari conducted with South Asian women in London reinterpreting a traditional South Asian folk tale entitled 'A Flowering Tree'.

"Synopsis of the Flowering Tree
Once upon a time, there were three sisters who lived in a forest. The eldest sister had the magical power of turning into a flowering tree. One day the king of the nearby village was passing through and he saw the girl. He wanted her to be his wife, and persuaded her to come with him. He took her back to his palace and wished her to turn into the tree. The girl was unhappy and couldn’t transform. Enraged he locked her away as punishment. Isolated and depressed, soon the girl fell ill. The king called for her younger sisters. The elder girl gave them a seed, which they planted back in the forest. Seasons passed and the tree blossomed. And one fine day, it transformed into the girl. The sisters were happy to be together again." Source:
The Final installation at my studio in Ahmedabad

The Starting Point 

Sabari sent me images of the workshop conducted in London, along with vector drawings and jpeg images of the artwork. We had long skype sessions discussing textile techniques, materials, colours etc.

3-D flowers created by the participants in London. Photo Credit:

Techniques used by the workshop participants to give form to their ideas. Photo Credit:
The Final artwork for the Flowering Girl. Photo Credit:

The Final Artwork with the Kings element. Photo Credit:

Preparation for Production

These drawings were printed on actual scale (4 mt x 6 mt), and became the base for us to begin work. 
The artwork printed on translucent gateway sheets
Fabrics were sourced, craftspeople were identified and a work flow was set in pace so that we could achieve a good quantum of work everyday. Progress of each day was documented and emailed to Sabari for approvals.

It took us 15 days (and a couple of full nights) to have the package ready. My team comprised of a group of six local applique craftswomen and my tailor and without their support and hardwork it would not have been possible to meet the tight deadline. 

Actual Production

Applique artisans working on different parts of the piece. The kings leaves were the first pieces that we begun working on since they were very elaborate.

The small leaves were the last object we worked on, since they were scattered throughout the piece and required cutwork for the back lighting to cast shadows on the floor. 

The Final stitching of the edges of the installation

Punching Holes and fixing the metal rivets on all the four sides, so that the installation can be rigged up and stretched from all the four directions
Details of the central element of the installation - the girl. Each flower in the hair of the flowering girl was crafted in organdy by hand and attached towards the end of the project.

Details of the hand appliqued King's leaves. Layering played a very big role to add dimension to the piece. We had to keep in mind that the final installation was going to be back lit, so the finishing had to be immaculate.
The Final Installation in London

Panel showing the work of the participants of the workshops in London. Photo Credit:

Visitors enjoying the exhibit. Photo Credit:

The shadows of the cutouts on the floor. Photo Credit:
The backlit installation showing details of the Flowering Girl

The audience interacting with the installation at Southbank Centre, London
My experience 
The sheer scale of the installation was scary to begin with, especially the given time and budget constraints. But once I started planning and putting together the team and work flow, my inhibitions were overshadowed by the zeal to create a piece that I would be proud to associate myself with.

It was a delight to work with Sabari, as her attention to detail fuelled us to deliver our best. The numerous phone calls and skype meetings managed to bridge distance as we worked across two continents in transforming Sabari’s vision to a tangible product. In retrospect, what I particularly liked about this project was sitting with my team of craftspeople planning, cutting, stitching and doing embroidery hands-on.

Majority of the artisans were young girls staying in a close knit conservative society. For them to leave their homes and come and work on this project and on some days during the nights too, was an achievement. Geeta ben, the master craftsperson, says, “I pray to God that this project is approved and people see our work and come back for more. But Shweta make sure you have more time to work in the future.”

This project has been a successful first attempt for me. I hope the exhibition managed to communicate to the viewer, the hard work and creative energy that has gone in realising 'Re-imagined Dreams'. 

Exhibited at Alchemy Festival from 12th-22nd April 2012 at Southbank Centre, London. Photographs of London by Sabari Majumdar. Photographs of India by Sanjay Guria.