Surrey Art Gallery is pleased to announce the solo exhibition Swapnaa Tamhane: No Surface is Neutral. The exhibition opens Saturday on September 23, with a conversation between artist Swapnaa Tamhane, Gallery Curator Jordan Strom, and Associate Curator of Adult Programs Sameena Siddiqui at 6:30 p.m.
Tamhane’s work considers the role of cotton in India’s colonial and decolonial histories through large-scale textile installations. They challenge the hierarchical colonial separation between art, craft, and design in India. Her artwork includes block-printed and embellished textiles and works on paper handmade from cotton cloth. They harness different moments in India’s history of industrial and handloom cotton production, bringing them together in contemporary artworks to challenge how we understand ideas of ornamentation and decoration. Tamhane treats textiles as though they are drawings, layering ideas of mark-making and the presence of the hand to explore what it means to make a decolonial gesture.
The exhibition features two bodies of work displayed side by side. The first includes textile works made in collaboration with artists in western India from the Kutch region. They are arranged in sweeping architectural forms that reference the Mughal and Ottoman shamiana (imperial tent) layered with motifs from Le Corbusier’s architecture in Ahmedabad, India, as well as the shimmering mirrored walls of mud homes. The second body of work includes drawings on paper handmade by Tamhane from khadi (handspun cotton cloth) that have been deconstructed to its base fibres and reconstituted. In these works, drawing can take any form of mark-making—from pencil or ink on paper to folding, crumpling, and mixing paper pulps even before the paper has dried.
About the Curator
Dr. Deepali Dewan is the Dan Mishra Senior Curator of Global South Asia at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto and an Associate Professor in the Department of Art History at the University of Toronto. Her research spans issues of colonial, modern and contemporary visual culture in South Asia and the South Asian diaspora. She has curated and published for over twenty years the history of photography and its critical historiographies and contemporary art as it explores ways of being and knowing in the world.
About Surrey Art Gallery
Founded in 1975, Surrey Art Gallery presents contemporary art by local, national, and international artists, including digital and audio art. Recognized for its award-winning programs, the Gallery engages children through to adults in ongoing conversations that affect our lives and provides opportunities to interact with artists and the artistic process. The Gallery is located at 13750 88 Avenue in Surrey on the unceded territories of the Salish Peoples, including the q̓ic̓əy̓ (Katzie), q̓ʷɑ:n̓ƛ̓ən̓ (Kwantlen), and Semiahma (Semiahmoo) nations. Surrey Art Gallery gratefully acknowledges operating funding from the City of Surrey, Province of BC through BC Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts, and the Surrey Art Gallery Association.
Achadiya III, 2020-2023 (made with Salemamad Khatri)
block print on cotton, indigo, mirrors, aluminium tubes
Hamilton Artists Inc., March 25-May 13, 2023
The Hamilton Artists Inc. is pleased to announce the opening of DROP CLOTH, a new exhibition featuring the works of Swapnaa Tamhane. The works propose to consider the medium of drawing as one that can be about an accumulation, as a series of marks made by many over time. The title DROP CLOTH refers to heavier industrially produced cotton that is pinned to the long print beds of Ajrakh block printers working in the desert region of Kutch, Gujarat, where Tamhane has been working with craft persons and artisans (karigars) since 2018.
These drop cloths or achadiya absorb the residues and excessive resist that seeps through during the block printing process, and are a record of the action and sound of wood blocks as they repeatedly stamp cloth for commercial production. The achadiya is the material that is never meant to be seen, celebrated, or considered as something of value, what Tamhane likens to a diasporic experience. When dyed in indigo, residual marks of Ajrakh and Tamhane's motifs are revealed and create a self-generating composition of a layering of marks, traces, and ghost prints made by several hands working over these surfaces. In response to the revealed prints and residues, Tamhane has applied mirrors on the achadiya, almost drawing with them and creating a surface that creates reflection and carries light.
The foundation of her framing about mark-making, drawing, and layering connects to the poet/saint Kabir – as a metaphor – in how his poetry and songs became a community of authors over centuries. Kabir was a cotton weaver from the 15th Century, and his words travelled with pilgrimage and trade routes in what is now India. His poetry became interwoven with several languages and dialects. Eventually, the oral began to merge with the written, and form, meaning, repetition, and improvisation began to blur. Kabir becomes a site or index for Tamhane to think about drawing as a palimpsest or a community/collective. Alongside the achadiya are two drawings of the homes and altars of weavers which include images of Kabir, a recycled plastic weaving made from waste garbage bags and biscuit wrappers, and a sound composition.
Hamilton Artists Inc.
155 James Street North
Wed & Thurs: 12-5PM
Hamilton Artists Inc. (The Inc.) is a charitable, not-for-profit artist-run centre, founded in 1975.
Do Hands Have a Chance?, block print and dyes on mill-made cotton, currently on view at Sculpture Park Jaipur, Madhavendra Palace.
The Sculpture Park at Madhavendra Palace opens Feb 26, 2023
The Golden Fibre, V&A Dundee, Scotland
June 2022-June 2023
The experiences of jute labourers in Dundee and Kolkata will be explored in a new commission at V&A Dundee opening today (Friday 24 June), developed in partnership with Dundee Heritage Trust and the University of Dundee. Artist, curator and writer Swapnaa Tamhane has been inspired by archives held at the University of Dundee and Verdant Works, which is run by Dundee Heritage Trust. Her research explores the colonial context of jute and the lives of workers in and around Kolkata in the early 19th and 20th Century. Jute was known as the ‘golden fibre’ because of the huge profits that were made from it, though those profits were rarely shared with workers in Dundee or in what was then British-ruled Bengal, now split between Bangladesh and India. In the 19th century workers in Bangladesh and India harvested raw jute to be shipped to Dundee for processing and manufacturing, and by the early 20th century they worked in mills in and around Kolkata that were mostly managed by Scots. That shift is seen as helping to accelerate the decline of the jute industry in Dundee, by moving manufacturing closer to the source.
Tamhane’s work is called The Golden Fibre and is now installed in V&A Dundee’s Scottish Design Galleries. It is a collage of archival photographs and drawings of female workers as well as microscopic images of jute paper that the artist makes by hand. This laborious process involves cutting up jute cloth, soaking it in the caustic chemical lye, then beating it in water for hours to create a pulp that is then shaped and dried into rough sheets of paper.
Part of the work is an installation called Tum Banglá mat bolo, ham kuchh nahín samajhtá hai (You don’t speak Bengali, I can’t understand anything). It features extracts from a Hindustani language exercise book used by Scottish supervisors to control workers in the Bengali mills. Colonial attitudes are revealed through translations of orders such as ‘Hurry up’, ‘Keep quiet’, ‘Do not waste oil’ and ‘Do not make any noise’.
The work explores how the colonial system connected workers across the continents, so hand tools used in the Dundee mills and factories, including a bale hook, hackle, porter gauge and pair of weaving scissors from Verdant Works, are also on display.
Many workers saw these tools as being like extra fingers on their hands. They were not provided by the employer but had to be purchased by the workers from local ironmongers and cobblers. Tamhane sees the potential of these objects for connecting us with the skilled people in Dundee and Calcutta upon whom this global industry depended.
Meredith More, Curator at V&A Dundee, said: “Since 2020 V&A Dundee has reframed displays and interpretation in the Scottish Design Galleries to acknowledge that much of Scotland’s design history is built upon the exploitation of enslaved and colonised people around the world. Tamhane’s new work starts a conversation and allows us to dig deeper into a local story with a huge transnational context. It opens up an important conversation about Dundee's relationship with colonialism and how people across continents have been impacted by it, in many different ways."
Swapnaa Tamhane said: “I think about the role of the hand and the handmade in relation to drawing or making paper from either cotton or jute. I am curious about how this may connect me to the hands of many others across continents who have harvested, processed and manufactured these materials over centuries. After the paper is pressed, I put handmade jute paper under a microscope and could see how the fibres bind together arbitrarily. To me, they become a metaphor for a protest against order and structure. In the commission for V&A Dundee, I wanted to focus in on the lives of women in the Bengali jute industry. Some of them were widows, some were fleeing their homes, some were supplementing the household incomes. Most of the women who worked in the fields to harvest raw jute were undocumented as part of the workforce. The archival images I came across are precious traces of their lives, about which we know very little.”
The display is available to see for free as part of V&A Dundee’s Scottish Design Galleries. It has been curated by V&A Dundee and Mother Tongue, a curatorial practice based in Glasgow, who are also developing a programme of complementary content and events.
As part of this, visitors can view the photographs and documents that have inspired Tamhane’s work, along with complementary articles, videos and links, here: https://www.vam.ac.uk/dundee/info/the-golden-fibre-online-resources
The work has been supported by V&A Dundee and the Ontario Arts Council.
For media enquiries, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Mother Tongue is a research-led, independent curatorial practice working locally and internationally, formed in 2009 by Tiffany Boyle and Jessica Carden. They produce exhibitions, film programmes, discursive events, essays and publications that challenge the whiteness of Scottish art history narratives. They work with galleries, museums, archives, and festivals and have undertaken residencies in Scotland, Sweden, Finland and Barbados.
V&A Dundee is Scotland’s design museum. Designed by Kengo Kuma, the museum is at the centre of Dundee’s reimagined waterfront and is part of the V&A family of museums that celebrate creativity in all its forms from across centuries, for everyone. V&A Dundee features world-class exhibitions alongside the permanent Scottish Design Galleries, and a changing programme of commissions, events and activities. The new museum was created by Design Dundee Ltd with the support of its founding partners: the Victoria and Albert Museum, Dundee City Council, the University of Dundee, Abertay University and Scottish Enterprise.