The art of embroidery is flourishing across India

BANGALORE, India – Throughout India there has always been a rich tradition of embroidery work, from the humble cantha from West Bengal to opulence zardosi of Uttar Pradesh. In recent years, a new generation of contemporary artists has experimented with embroidery as an art form. But it wasn’t until the start of the pandemic in 2020 that many of these artists received a new kind of attention.

Since the onset of the pandemic in India, needle and thread have become a medium for expression and creativity, with beautifully detailed works capturing the life and universe of the artist. In a culture that often sees embroidery as a “hobby” or a “woman’s job”, these artists create a niche and even sustain themselves through their art.

Jahnavee Baruah, “Aita’s Ancestral Home” (2022). “Aita’s house in Amplapatti was carried away by the Brahmaputra. She remembers that there were two Reetha (Soapnut) trees just behind the community well. It was the duty of the youngest child to collect all the soap nuts, that’s what they used as detergent and shampoo. Aita and her cousins ​​used to hop through the japona to Makuri Aita’s house to collect fruit from her home,” Baruah explains.

Embroidery is a form of layered storytelling for the Assamese artist Jahnavee Baruah, who used the medium to discover his roots. “I grew up in Doodooma, Assam surrounded by miles of tea plantations and rice paddies. The location had a big impact on my fascination with the material. outside to look for materials to build something. I probably got it from my grandmother, who was amazing with her hands. I watched her make paper flowers, embroidered handkerchiefs and frivolous lace. But I didn’t only discovered my love for textiles and embroidery when I went to art school,” notes Jahnavee, whose aunt taught her how to embroider during one of her visits home.

The ancestral land and its people have become Jahnavee’s source of inspiration, and she enjoys documenting her discoveries through embroidery. “Embroidery is like a language that my hands speak. I like to explore myths, folklore or knowledge rooted in everyday life. I regard the earth as my master and I bend down to observe it quietly. I appreciate the slowness of the process, a bit like transmitting ancestral knowledge.

Anuradha Bhaumick, “Cherry Pickers” (2020)

Based in Bangalore Anuradha Bhaumick also had the knowledge of embroidery passed on to her by her mother when she was five years old, when she had chickenpox. If she immediately clung to the medium, it was the idea of ​​reparation that stuck with her. “Growing up and living in a house that believed in the beauty of handmade objects and wanted to emancipate anything that could be out of breath really drew me to fashion design and more importantly embroidery. I grew up watching my mother in the beautiful kantha saris. My jackets were made from recycled sofa fabric panels. A curtain that bleached in the sun, the upholstery of the couch that tore, the checkered tiles of my school uniform that I outgrew…my mom found a way to reuse it all. Nothing has ever gone in the trash. Everything was fixable and could be turned into gold,” Bhaumick recalls. In 2020, she quit her corporate job to pursue embroidery full time. “Since then, it’s been my universe. Or maybe it always has been.

Renuka, “Alive as a Covid Dream” (2020)

To Bangalore Renuka Rajiv, aka pithbull, their embroidery practice started by making t-shirts for themselves and is now part of their repertoire. Explorations started with the simplest stitch – running stitch – and eventually moved to other techniques like appliqué and chain stitch, while expanding the works to have more room to play.

Rajiv’s embroidered quilts are raw and evocative, full of body and figurative shapes, with thread mimicking what a pen might do. “Since childhood, I have always loved the materiality of fabric and its associated companions. Wire is a line shape, and I like to draw. It slows down the line compared to using a pen. I like to work freehand so that the quality of the line remains immediate. I use wire to maintain a workflow,” they share.

Gunjan Thapar, “Vincent and Amrita” (2020), thread embroidery

Another artist experimenting with embroidery is based in Santiniketan Gunjan Thaparwhose brand echoes focuses on embroidered miniature collectibles inspired by masterpieces of art history. Her journey began in 2019, when she studied textiles alongside art history by embroidering her sketchbooks, assembling personal essays in the form of illustrated books. “During lockdown, I started recreating masterpieces to understand the techniques of the artists who originally created them. It became a very calming process that taught me a lot,” shares Gunjan .

When Gunjan started posting her miniature pieces online, people sought to buy them, and she received lots of commissions and custom orders. But the orders were getting too many and she couldn’t find time for her personal work. “Now the plan is to focus on my own ideas. I am currently working on a series featuring women/queer people, where I sketch and embroider them in moments of leisure and comfort. It brings me a lot of comfort. »

Gunjan Thapar, “Comfort (Portrait of a couple)” (2021), thread embroidery
Anuradha Bhaumick, “Sukoon” (2021)
Jahnavee Baruah, “Bortukulas on the Ximolu Tree” (2021). “That tree in my neighbor’s house taught Jahnavee to be careful – every day, every season, as it quietly transforms and is home to so many people,” Baruah says.