Location: Aicon Gallery, New York USA
Dates: 05 June – 10 July 2021
Tailoring and needlework are the central pillars of my heritage. It was my grandfather’s profession, as a tailor for the British Army, that first brought my family from Pakistan to the UK, and I was brought up to think of textiles as objects of artistry and skill. Conceived in the context of a lockdown spent embedded with my extended family, my fourth exhibition at Aicon Gallery presented a selection of works that reflect and celebrate the oral and craft traditions that form the wellspring of my sensibility as an artist.
As a child, I was impressed with the solemnity of the relationship between human and cloth: from the moment of birth, when it’s the first material a baby comes into contact with. I grew to regard his grandfather’s sewing machine and the other tools of his trade as sacred. For my mother, an accomplished needleworker, not only is sewing and crocheting a basic survival skill, but part of her very identity. Steeped in a home where cloth formed the warp and weft of family and of life itself, textiles have always been an important inspiration and motif in my work.
Over the period of Covid, I shifted my activities to my home studio. Collecting rugs and books from the family library, I photographed all the important textiles I grew up with, cutting them in strips and re-weaving them into paper tapestries and bringing several patterns together to form completely new designs. The action of weaving, at once intimate and meditative, provided a still centre amid the ebb and flow of Lockdown domesticity. Using many different rugs in each Tanabana tapestry, the works pay homage to craft and the fruit of many lifetimes of practice, and re-interpret it, bringing my own skills as a maker into a dialogue with those of generations before me.
Taking these unique new Tanabana textile designs and referring back to the family library, I has also conceived seven new monumental works. I took inspiration from the Sabaq-Amoz Kahaniyan, exemplary tales shared for generations as moral stories to instil good character in children. Each story illustrates a particular lesson, serving either as a caution or as a salutary example to follow. Homing in on passages or moments from these books, I brought their protagonists and landscapes to life, clothing them in the Tanabana designs. Removed from their immediate narratives, these faceless figures connect to folk traditions of storytelling dating back thousands of years, and across continents. A celebration of ornament and colour, the works combine drawing, collage and screen-printing in my most intricate and exuberant series to date.