WORK by AMARJEET NANDHRA
Amarjeet’s artistic practice explores textiles and mixed media as a means to reflect on social and political issues. Her work looks beyond the aesthetic sensibilities of textiles to probe their hidden meanings while unravelling the stories, histories and memories that they tell. This reimagining of heritage has led to her innovating with colours, patterns and marks associated with traditional Indian textiles.
Her artworks, ‘My Other Words’, ‘My Other Colours’, ‘Shared Heritage’ and ‘Displacement’, all took inspiration from traditional phulkari. These pieces used recognisable phulkari patterns but experimented with altered shades, scales and distortions.
My Other Words (left). My Other Colours (right)
At first glance, the ornamentation of the textile arts seduces the viewer, casting them back to the traditional aesthetics of Punjab. However, these are not to be seen simply as colourful and attractive heritage items. Very often, the intricate and detailed embroidery of these pieces eclipses their role as powerful carriers of meaning and memory. Amarjeet reflected:
‘ “My Other Colours” documents my colour pathways, within the last twenty years of my practice and the conscious and unconscious choices made. From the bold vibrant colours of an Indian palette, colours that were abandoned as being too Indian. To a limited, muted palette influenced by English sensibilities that were deemed more acceptable at the time.’
Through the agency of the migrant in Britain, the stitch is progressively deconstructed as vibrant colours accommodate muted English sensibilities.
‘My Other Words’ is a contemporary response to the traditional Punjabi embroidery technique of Phulkari and Kantha work. The stitch is informed by Kantha work, the construction based on Phulkari. Traditionally, three narrow strips were sewn together to form one rectangular piece that provided the foundations for embroidery work and a narrative document. The base of the print is Punjabi text, the fabric shapes are patterns used in phulkari, and the whole piece is embellished using kantha stitch.
The partition of India in August 1947, when both Pakistan and India gained independence from Britain, caused one of the largest forced migrations of people in history. A massive and bloody upheaval resulted in the displacement of over ten million people. This traumatic event contributed to the demise of the handmade embroidery tradition of phulkari work.
‘Shared Heritage’ examines the relationship between the embroidery technique of phulkari, and the divisions between communities that historically shared this beautiful art form across the now divided Punjab.
Amarjeet reminisces how Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims stitched phulkari together. But post-partition relationships were fractured and traditional patterns of phulkari began to expose such social ruptures. The unravelling of the stitch and loss of colour depicts the dispersion and erosion of rich cultural traditions.
My Other Colours, Shared Heritage, and Displacement
‘Displacement’ explores the impact of partition through the deconstruction of phulkari traditions . The work depicts the traumatic and enforced migration made by the millions of people across the subcontinent.
Mapping – Places and Spaces
‘Mapping - Places and Spaces’ marks a move away from the use of conventional colours and patterns altogether. Amerjeet said:
‘Using the concept of a phulkari representing a framework to map and document the activities of a maker. I was inspired to create my interpretation of a fabric map, documenting aspects of my daily life. Recording my movement through different spaces, both urban and natural landscapes. There was a conscious move away from using traditional patterns, but to use the stitch in a more contemporary manner.’
The textiles, past and present, are both making and marking identities, weaving a story through the layering of marks, text, patterns and stitch.
Join the artist talking about how she addresses the complexities of migration, identity, heritage and tradition while creating new and relevant artworks for modern times.