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Needle, thread, and life lessons

Having worked with noted designers and brands in the past, textile designer turned artist Gopika Nath, who now lives in Siolim, tells NT BUZZ how the art form has helped her gained a better understanding of her inner self

CHRISTINE MACHADO

In her final year of school, Gopika Nath was asked by her class teacher what she wanted to be. “I don’t know from where the idea came from but I said that I wanted to be a textile designer,” she recalls. Post this though, she promptly forgot all about it. But life, she says, had already planned a path for her. “Even when I moved away from textiles, something would keep bringing me back to it,” she says.

She went on to study at Central St Martins School of Art and Design (UK). A Fulbright scholar, Nath, who is today a textile artist – craftsman who embroiders and writes, has over the years been employed by the corporate sector, handloom industry, fashion designers etc. She initiated the ‘art for wear’ movement in India in the early 1990’s with her range of exclusive hand-painted sarees and scarves. She has also worked with leading fashion designers, creating speciality fabrics for Rohit Bal, Rina Dhaka, Gitanjali Kashyap and Ashish Soni, among others.

Having worked with textiles since 1976, she was however introduced to the idea of textile as an art by Japanese textile artist Itchiku Kubota. But what really made her move from design to art was her dissatisfaction with the lack of innovation by textile designers. She first began painting on fabric and later moved back to embroidery. And while a designer, she says, works with an idea, drawing inspiration from different sources, as an artist, you are speaking from a deeper space. “You are putting in your feelings, your thoughts, your opinions and they have to come from an authentic space or they don’t have that ring of art,” she says.

After meeting many artists in the US doing some stunning work, Nath was inspired to delve further into using textiles as a canvas for her art. Having lost money when the stock market fell also pushed her to change the way she looked at textiles. “I realised at that point that I couldn’t work with fabric in that contained way. It was not authentic to the kind of life I had or the kind of environment I was living in,”she said. From having a reverence for the fabric, Nath found herself instead tearing it, leaving lose ends while working on it etc. “I was feeling so fragile and was taking this out on the fabric and suddenly I realised that the fabric can really speak,” she says.

Around this time, she also moved from Delhi to Gurgaon and lived in a high-rise building. Being very sound sensitive though, she found the blaring noises and the clustered way of living very invasive. Her first exhibition was born out of this. “In 1993 I spent a lot of time studying the various dance forms because I felt that a dancer is what I wanted my life to be – just moving through various stages of life. So I sat through various dance performances like Bharatnayatam, Kuchipudi etc and allowed myself to blend in with the dance movements and draw,” she explains. However, up until her Gurgaon move she hadn’t done anything with these sketches. So she decided to use these in her new work, using the hair of the fabric to speak about her fragile state of being.

“This was the first time I actually started speaking of what I was feeling rather than just doing things because somebody wanted this or somebody wanted that,” she states.

It was after this that she came across an article where the writer talks about how he hates the Eiffel tower but the only way to avoid looking at it was to get inside it. “That became a very important message for me. To escape all the sounds of Gurgaon, I had to get inside it. One shouldn’t try and avoid what is happening but should get inside it. And then I realised that the sound was not so much an external disturbance, but an internal disturbance. There a lot going on inside than what is being acknowledged,” she explains.

As she began to introspect more through her art, Nath also became very fascinated with coffee stain marks and began photographing these. “When someone makes remarks like ‘you’re fat’ or ‘you’re ugly’ etc, these leave a mark on your mind and begin to define your sense of self. These are the marks we carry around like a sense of shame. So I started working with this idea of marks as a stain on my mind,” she says.

Upon moving to Goa, she took to a new art project called ‘Washed Ashore’. One fine day she was walking along Candolim beach and she picked up a black shiny stone. Upon examining it, she began picking up more of these stones. “It struck me that every stone had a story to tell,” she explains. With this thought in mind, she also began picking up shells, leaves, coconut shells, abandoned slippers etc. “I was picking up all the ‘kachra’ from the beach,” she says laughing. But then soon realised there wasn’t enough place in her home to store all these and decided to begin clicking pictures instead.

“Whatever washed ashore, from my way of looking at it, was what we hadn’t dealt with – the problems, the pain, the discomfort, and this was holding us back from moving forward,” she says.

Apart from this project, Nath is also now looking at the various mythologies around nature.

(‘Unravelling The Threads – A Journey Into the Self’, a talk by textile artist and craftsperson Gopika Nath will be held on August 15, 3.30 p.m. at Studio 365, Goa Velha, as part of the ongoing printmaking workshop)

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