Tussar, Chanderi, Kanjeevaram, Bandini, Patola – these are names I would often hear around me while growing up in India, and I remember vividly the accompanied excitement that these words would conjure, and the all-consuming beauty and vibrancy that would follow. Through my early childhood and well into my developmental years, my aesthetic sensibilities were greatly influenced and nurtured by my mother; with her affinity for and exhilarating knowledge of textiles, our visits together to varied fabric stores, and her unique and glamorous collection of sarees. I began to learn to instinctively recognize the contrasting and diverse materials and weaving styles, and found myself struck by the warp and the weft of the handloom.

Aninda Varma, Acorn

The handloom industry, still one the largest cottage industries in India, and one that is deeply rooted in Indian culture and tradition, is at a particularly challenging phase today: it finds itself torn between the dichotomy of the demand for rapid growth using modern streamlined equipment, and the continued sustenance of the skilled labourers who depend on their manual practice of the loom for their trade.

I had the opportunity to visit the Fabric of India exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum, which helped me solidify my understanding of the heritage of Indian textiles, including the impact of historic centuries-old trading routes. The fabrics featured at the exhibition spanned a wide gamut – from textiles for everyday common wear for the common man, to the sheer masterpieces woven at the Mughal courts. In particular, the motifs featuring a variety of flora, the pilgrimage banners, and the prayer rugs displayed at the exhibition, all had an awe-inspiring influence on me.

Aninda Varma, Summer (2019), Zari, Fabric dye, beads on fabric.

Through my pieces, I use my experiences to attempt to bring together various disparate threads, and weave them together into a cohesive narrative – one encompassing craftsmanship, paint, colour, memories, and nature. By infiltrating the world of craft and materials, the pieces showcase dyeing, weaving and sewing in unconventional ways that are distinct from their orthodox style. These are also an exploration into ways to introduce these established methods and materials into a contemporary setting. Nature, in-particular, plays an influential role in the depictions – with the fabrics dyed by infusing pigments, these are exposed to their natural surroundings, and to the varied elements and seasonal variations, with the resulting colour forming their own pattern, establishing a certain dialogue between life in the studio and life in the outside world.

My work, to me, acts as a reminder and a grasp at certain fragments from the past – of particular memories, of seasons, of times with my mother that have gone by, and of loss. The repetition of these certain images also find themselves reflected in the patterns found in the fabrics.

Aninda Varma, Peek My Interest (2020), Fabric dye and beads on hand woven fabric

Words: Aninda Varma

Find out more about Aninda over at her website

All photographs courtesy of the artist.