Our current Garland Laureate takes us to a lost world and back. We learn about a rich vein of material culture and the values accompany it. With this email we embroider Gopika Nath’s essay with elements from the world it inhabits. You can also find a Pinterest board with relevant images. Subscribers can find epub or pdf versions for reading offline.
Gopika Nath looks into the lives today of those who continue a precious textile tradition. Embroiderers seem now to value it more as a livelihood than an art form. With Indian humanism as her guide, Nath finds a depth of expression that continues. Along the way, Nath marvels at the masterpieces of its history, remembers the tragic past that broke the thread, and considers the profound thinkers who have guide its path today.
The Other Side of Silence
The modern history of the Punjab is riven by Partition, which split the region in two. Gopika draws on the stories told by Urvashi Rutalia of those whose lives were upturned by the tectonic dislocation of peoples between India and Pakistan. And she finds it still today in the song of embroiderers who reflect on the fleetingness of history in their song: “our lives are like the waters of the river Wagah”.
Gopika Nath is influenced greatly by the thinking of Ananda Coomaraswamy, the Ceylonese Tamil philosopher of art. It is from him that she learns the capacity of reflection to find peace, whether through writing or making.—”Where it [philosophy] is not merely an intellectual pursuit, but it is regarded with deep conviction that through this lies freedom from ignorance or avidya, which masks the reality of being, towards salvation or moksha.”
Gopika Nath is also inspired by the renowned thinker and art historian Jasleen Dhamija. Her exhibition of Phulkari in the Sacred Grid was a transformational experience. Dhamija is a link back to the days before Partition—a romantic world resonant with folk songs and love of making. Dhamija will be known to some of our readers as a co-curator of Power Cloths of the Commonwealth as well a stirring voice of the South Project.
Gopika Nath draws on the scholarship of Laila Tyabji, particularly her book Threads & Voices: Behind the Indian Textile Tradition. Tyabji is a designer, writer and founder member and Chairperson of DASTKAR, a Society for Crafts & Craftspeople. She is a fierce advocate for artisans, particularly in a contemporary politics India which can be focused on economic growth to the detriment of culture.
The meaning of the Quarterly Essay is meant to ensure over time. In the welcoming spirit of Garland, covers have been handmade as individual works of art by refugee artists. You can purchase one of these with a print version of the essay from our online shop. Proceeds go back to the artist and you are also encouraged to leave a comment for the artist (each issue has a number which is linked to the page for the artist).
You can also purchase a single copy of the essay as an ebook in epub and pdf versions. This helps if you want to read it offline, make notes, highlight text and keep your place. If you use an Android device, we recommend the Moon Reader, or if you’re on an iPad, try Marvin.