A Story of Three Stitches Group Show – Curated by Prabhakar Kamble

by Anshu Singh, Mayuri Chari, Meenakshi Nihalani

A story of Three Stitches 

Mayuri Chari | Meenakshi Nihalani | Anshu Singh 

14th March – 14th April 2024 

curated by Prabhakar Kamble 

weave your name on the loom of my mind,
To make my garment when you come to me.
My loom has ten thousand threads
To make my garment when you come to me.
The sun and moon watch while I weave your name;
The sun and moon hear while I count your name.
These are the wages I get by day and night
To deposit in the lotus bank of my heart.

weave your name on the loom of my mind
To clean and soften ten thousand threads
And to comb the twists and knots of my thoughts.
No more shall I weave a garment of pain.
For you have come to me, drawn by my weaving,
Ceaselessly weaving your name on the loom of my mind.

– Kabir 

A collection of autobiographical embroidered works by artists Mayuri Chari,  Meenakshi Nihalani and AnshuSingh opens at the Gallery Art & Soul with narratives around distinct personal histories of the three artists.  Meenakshi Nihalani (1978)  is an artist based in Bombay who interlays indigo and the history of post-partition migration of women from Sindh to the camps of Mahim,  Ulhasnagar,  Chembur and Worli.  These women would collectively sit and  embroider table mats,  bedsheets,  tablecloths and stoles for sale to raise money as a form of sustenance.  Women’s help groups and entrepreneurial women’s collectives formed the back bone of a cottage industry around these camps where they would also make condiments,  pickles and papads.   Sindh was known for its handicrafts for many millennia  – the entrepot trade from the Harappan sites extended until the Phoenician Mediterranean.  But during the relatively prosperous reign of the Talpur Mirs traders from Shikarpur and Sukkur began producing Ajrak textiles and other embroidered products on a large scale.  After Charles Napier’s conquest of Sindh these traders sought the patronage of the British and followed them onto their ship routes to England settling in British dependencies and ports on the Suez as well as those around the Cape of Good Hope.  Sindhi merchants who lived for long periods of exile on the trade routes began to be called ‘Sindhworkis’ – or those who dealt with ‘ Sindhwork’ – embroidered textiles and enamelled metal.  Nihalani’s art practice includes drawing and embroidery where not just the long history of Sindhi handicraft gets vocabularizedvisually but also arrives from a deep sense of feminist understanding of collective work that monumentalises the collective memory of a trauma such as partition. 

Anshu Singh (1989) comes from a family where the women have been involved inBanaras’s extensive weaving industry since the last few decades .  The industry of  handloom weaving and embroidery in Banaras goes back into a time where its most important poet-philosopher  Kabir grew up in a home where he had been adopted by an old couple who were weavers or Julahas.  Julahas or Ansaris are a marginalised caste of Muslims who within the caste system prevalent in Indian Islam are from the lower castes.  Their handiwork in embroidery and weaving expensive Banarasi sarees that use both gold and silver thread is very lowly paid and the profits are exploited by middle caste  traders who are Hindu.  This interdependence is championed as communal  harmony but with increased communalisation of politics the Julahas are being culturally,  socially and politically marginalised in Eastern Uttar Pradesh.  Kabir who embodied a move away from traditional norms of both Hinduism and Islam where he preached a syncretic form of faith based rationalism against the divisions of caste,  religion and gender, sawing weaving as a spiritual act and he  would often call himself ‘ Kashi Ka Julaha’ or the ‘ Weaver of Banaras’.  Anshu is a deeply politically aware artist and she often uses  motifs which may appear as abstract but are actually derived from a ‘letter’ or a script that symbolises a layered socio-political context.  She often integrates writing into her woven ensembles that come from a legacy of word play often used by Kabir in satirical couplets and poems that spell out a social message.   Addressing conceptual ideas through weaving Anshu Singh asserts the role women play in the weaving industry but are also often forgotten as silent labour unseen to the economics of the industry.   

Mayuri Chari (1991)  learnt to embroider as a craft that the patriarchal traditions of Goa expected out of her  for the role  she would take on  in the future of being a housewife.  She instead decided upon an intercaste marriage and rebelled against the norms of her family and decided upon marrying without the rituals of marriage or a trousseau.   Goan girls across castes and religions  learn to embroider their trousseau, a tradition brought down by the Portuguese during the period of colonisation that began in the 16th century.  Many are unaware of this legacy and continue the practice as women’s work.  Mayuri has been additionally making nude self-portraits of herself on cloth that are embroidered.  While studying for her masters in Hyderabad she made an ink self-impression of her nude body on paper.  She was later shamed by her friends who were mainly women who described the works as being vulgar.  She realised a stylised nude of a woman made by a male painter is acceptable to society, one which adheres to a body constitution not shared by the majority of women.  Her works then began to address complex contexts of menstruation  and agricultural labour and how women are used as cheap labour and expected to work more than men for lower wages.  

Three Stitches is an exhibition at  Gallery Art & Soul that draws narratives of women labour,  art history, craft and socio-economics of women’s participation at work through the practices of artists Mayuri Chari,  Meenakshi Nihalani and AnshuSingh, where diverse practices of weaving from across three corners of Indian come together to tell similar tales of stitched and woven victories in reality.