TEXT: REBECA SCHILLER
A few weeks ago, textile artist Neha Puri Dhir contacted us and sent us samples of her work. We were so captivated by it that we knew we had to feature her story and her work.
HAND/EYE MAGAZINE: What was that ‘aha” moment when you wanted to work with textiles?
Neha Puri Dhir: My tryst with textiles began as a student at National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, India when I happened to visit a small village called Paithan in Maharashtra, India as part of our course curriculum. The idea of that visit was to expose us, the foundation year students, to various design disciplines in order to help us choose on a specialization for our next three years in the college. Paithan is a small village of artisans who hand weave beautiful sarees called Paithani. It is an extremely laborious process to an extent that it takes days just to set the loom for weaving. The diligence and dedication of the weavers left a lasting impression on me and that was the day I realized my calling for textiles. In this process, I suddenly discovered my latent talent of being able to interact with craftsmen so effortlessly without even knowing their language. I can call it a ‘aha’ moment in true sense as there was no doubt left in my mind thereafter that it has to be fiber/textiles that I would want to explore for the rest of my life.
H/E: You mention in that you’ve been exploring several resist dye techniques. Which is the one that you found the most challenging and satisfying to work with and why?
NPD: Resist dyeing primarily refers to the process of resisting or covering a certain portion of the fabric before dyeing, in a pattern, so that the dye does not penetrate those areas. It can be achieved through various methods such as resisting with use of wax or some form of mud, by using certain chemical agents or by mechanical means such as tie and dye, stitch resist or clamp resist etc.
Of the methods I talked of above, I am fond of all the Shibori techniques stitch resist and in particular the stitch-resist technique. Though I have incorporated clamp-resist in few of my artworks. More than the means, it is the story that fascinates me. It is enchanting to know the origin of these age-old Japanese techniques. Unconsciously and interestingly similar resist dyeing techniques were taking birth in various corners of the world such as Bandhini in India and Adire in Africa. These traditional crafts were changing hands from one generation to another and unknowingly developing pedagogy for it.
I was exposed to basics of these techniques while undergoing a workshop with the legendry Yoshiko Wada and Jack Larsen during my student years. In later years, I experimented with my own idea of using machine stitch instead of hand to achieve something that wasn’t possible otherwise. This added a whole new dimension to my work. The inherent uncertainty in the process is a beautiful facet in itself and it is this transience that I crave for in my art.
H/E: What is your work philosophy? Has it been inspired by any art movement in particular?
NPD: In my opinion art has a rhythm. It is a sound, the unique heartbeat of an artist that enables the viewer to experience the world in another dimension. My art is just an expression of my varied experiences and principles in life. My work philosophy revolves around keeping things simple. Even in my life in general, I like to go back to basics whenever I am stuck.
The Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi reverberates with my art philosophy the most. It is centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection and I am deeply influenced by it. I do not like things that are absolutely perfect, I mean, I tend to find beauty in things the way they are. Although, most of the time my work requires planning with precise chemistry of colours envisaging their interaction with each other but it is the uncertainty, which unfolds, only at the last stage of my work that excites me. When a simple thought or a feeling that took birth at some unknown corner of my mind, is visualised on my fabrics, it is an extremely satisfying moment.
I would not say that I find my work aligned to any particular art movement, but somewhere I do find it to have a distinct stamp of my student years. The inquisitiveness that my college years, especially at NID, Ahmedabad, instilled in me has taken me forward and has inspired me at every step in life till now. I wish it always stays alive. However, definitely there are artists like Van Gogh, Joseph & Anni Albers, S.H Raza, Issey Miyake, whose work is absolutely inspirational for me.
H/E: Your work is geometric based. What is the appeal of these designs?
NPD: The beauty of geometry has always inspired my art practice. Geometry somewhere resonates with the essence of my philosophy of reliving the basics or the origin. In my most recent solo show, I only worked with the basic geometric form of a circle that was symbolic to the explorative potential of the void. I used the circle as a depiction of the unseen.
Since, it is these forms that are the building blocks of everything around us, they help me unclutter my mind. I find basic geometric forms to have immense potential of self-expression thus geometry helps me impart a visual language to the complex ideas in my mind. This amalgamation of geometry with my fascination for Shibori has been a very exciting journey so far and as an artist it is very satisfying to see people appreciating this unorthodox confluence.
H/E: Before you began working with resist dye techniques did you explore other textile techniques and processes such as sewing, embroidery, block printing etc? What was it about resist dyeing that attracted you to this technique?
NPD: During my student years at India, Italy and UK, I tried to expose myself to various facets and techniques of working with textiles. Later when I started my professional career, I made sure I diversify and experience various sectors such as craft, industry and education to grow as a professional. The idea was to explore as many textile techniques as possible. Having worked in various capacities across the realm of textiles, I believe I have a sound understanding of most of the textile techniques.
However, eventually I found resist dyeing to be the most satisfying means of self-expression for me. While working with most of the other techniques like weaving, sewing, printing, etc, one has a fair visualization of the final artwork as one works on it, while resist dyeing has a mystical curtain around the final artwork till its final stage. At the same time, it is impossible even for the artist herself to reproduce a resist dyed artwork once it is done. I find this facet to be very important, as an artwork is not just a creation; it is also a mirror to the artist’s state of mind and thoughts that have to be unique to the moment.
H/E: Do you plan to explore or incorporate other textile techniques into your work?
NPD: I want to be a student for life and am always eager to learn and explore different fabric construction and textile techniques. I intend to always be open to any new technique that would fascinate me. Incorporating other techniques with resist dyeing is a very exciting domain. Currently as write this, I am in Latvia on a Textile Art residency. I am really happy to see my fellow participants’ work and I am sure this experience shall influence my work and would offer me with multiple perspectives.
As an artist, my philosophy is to express myself through my own medium. Till the time this is being satisfied, I am open to any technique rather I am a person who would always love to explore more.