Human life is an intimate reflection of the cycles of nature, universal, perennial and all-pervasive. Of greatest significance to us are the sun and moon in their fixed paths across the sky, linked to the arrival, change and departure of the seasons – all existence on earth depends upon this eternal, unstoppable and regular movement that is a manifestation of reet, the Sanskrit term used in classical Indian philosophy for cosmic ‘truth’ or ‘order’. Sacred texts use weaving metaphors to describe and celebrate reet as an inviolable and paradigmatic first principle of the metaphysics of creation. Darkness veils light; light infuses darkness; through increasingly refined gradations of luminosity the gross becomes subtle, opacity becomes transparency; transformations revert to original states and re-manifest, and the reiterations continue. As closely and precisely bound as warp and weft, sun and moon invest each other with meaning, each completing the other’s activity as they traverse the visible sphere. And they sometimes unite through dramatic superimposition, as in the radiant shock of full eclipse when day is transformed into night. It is all one process – expansion and contraction, dispersion and compression, emanation and dissolution.
My early pictorial woven tapestries were inspired by the immaculate design that I perceive in nature, and the realization that axiomatic rhythms of cosmic order are continually enacted within our consciousness. I moved from this smooth, lyrical, harmonious aesthetic into a period of narrating via open warps, keeping my creative process visible in order to signify ambiguity, absence, deferral, dissonance and unpredictability, as well as transformative possibility, as inherent to the pattern of any life. The next phase of my work grew out of my intensive long-term research into rafoogari, the traditional art of specialized ‘invisible’ darning, and the rafoogar community, custodians of this neglected indigenous knowledge still being passed down from one generation to the next. I created a range of mixed-media works inspired by rafoogari, recycling scraps of my discarded weavings by combining them with paper pulp through an experimental technique. This elision of fibres from two natural sources are a symbolic reminder that the edges of gashes and holes in any vulnerable weave have to be continuously aligned, firmly yet delicately gripped, and sealed stitch by careful stitch to prevent further ripping and other damage, and to render the cloth intact and whole. I used the metaphor of both visible and invisible darning in abstract formats to suggest sudden, unforeseen and violent rupture in the once-reliable order of things; to invoke ‘repair’ as a vital modality of self-awareness; and to symbolically affirm the place, significance and act of such ‘darning’ in the fabric of any life, as well as in the life of any fabric.
My latest mixed-media articulation intensifies this logic and method, using natural dyes. The natural ‘cloth’ fibres disappear into the paper, the natural ‘paper’ fibres vanish into the cloth; they completely inhabit, host, permeate, embed, render, transform and ultimately subsume each other. Through such fusion a new morphology is distilled; the particular relationships that constitute duality are re-inscribed as a unity. These images invoke a collapse of the false binary we are so deeply conditioned to uphold: the arbitrary distinction between the existential and the transcendental. As I experience it, any seeming disruption of the rhythm of the personal weave is simply another invaluable enunciation of the seamless universal continuum of reet. We are no more and no less than transient, mutable skeins in the cosmic warp and weft, infinite, immaculate, imperishable.
Acknowledgements: Edited by Smriti Vohra
A Fine Arts graduate (Textiles) of Visvabharti University, Santiniketan, West Bengal, Priya Ravish Mehra studied Tapestry weaving at the Royal College of Arts, London, and the West Dean College, Sussex, UK, under the aegis of Commonwealth Fellowship and Charles Wallace Trust (India) Scholarship. She works as a textile artist and weaver, researcher and designer. She is a textile consultant to several projects related to Handlooms and Handicrafts in India. She has also created ‘New Delhi Residency’, a space to facilitate partnerships and cultural exchange for artists visiting India working in various creative mediums and disciplines. She is co-author of “Saris of India: Bihar and Bengal” published by Wiley and Eastern and AMR Vastra Kosh.