|Jain ladies, India, Gujarat: Image courtesy of Alicia Bruce|
Textile artist Deirdre Nelson’s embroidery forms part of the Heirlooms exhibition at Dovecot Studios, part of the Edinburgh International Festival. She talks about the inspiration behind her work included the chance to explore the traditional Indian technique of Kantha first-hand on a visit to Kolkata...
I first travelled to India in 1989 as a young backpacker and returned full of inspiration and love for such a wonderful and exciting country. I planned and hoped to travel to India again so I felt very excited at the chance to return to Kolkata thanks to Dovecot Studios, the Crafts Council of West Bengal and the Edinburgh International Festival.
I was also extremely privileged to stay with Ruby Palchoudhuri of the Crafts Council of West Bengal and her family in Kolkata and be able to experience West Bengal life first-hand. My first visit to India was as an onlooker, but on my recent trip, I was lucky enough to live with a Bengali family and experience and learn about their lives first hand.
Kantha comprises of the simplest stitch in the language of embroidery - the running stitch. It is the way in which this stitch is used, in different arrangements, that forms the complex vocabulary of this technique. Originally it was used to join layers of old saris, to make quilts. It was also used as a means of self-expression by both urban and rural women in Bengal, incorporating imagery from everyday life.
On a visit to The Gurusaday Museum, a unique national treasure of Indian folk and tribal arts, I was particularly drawn to the small kanthas, traditionally used to wrap everyday objects, and I spent time studying the imagery and intricate stitching.
Being able to see both historic and contemporary examples of kantha gave me a rich resource to build on for my work for Heirlooms. In creating new work I was very interested to create contemporary work which referenced traditional aspects of Kantha as well as images from our everyday lives.
I have made a series of kanthas for current everyday objects including mobile phones and laptop computers. Imagery has been gathered from photography, video and drawings by pupils from St John Vianny School in Edinburgh with whom I worked on a series of workshops with the Edinburgh International Festival.
Photographs, video and memories from my trip are posted on my blog at durjani.tumblr.com.
The Heirlooms exhibition runs from 4 August – 4 September at Dovecot Studios, 10 Infirmary Street, Edinburgh.