Sayan Chanda’s new work, now on view at Jhaveri Contemporary in Mumbai, showcases a series of large-scale woven sculptures. Some, like Mukut, rise up from the ground, almost stretching up to infinity, while others, like Bohurupee, have an elegant fluidity about them. The Kolkata-born and London-based artist “deploys textile and ceramic techniques in an exploration of indigenous votive and ritual objects. Whether weaving, using found textiles or clay, Chanda creates ambiguous forms that, evocative of talismans, transcend everyday materiality,” says Cleo Roberts-Komireddi, who writes about South-East Asian contemporary art, in a note on the exhibition, ‘A Smear And The Crown’, which is on till 22 October.
The artist’s early experiences come together in the mythological stories portrayed in his textile and glazed stoneware pieces. As a child, he was fascinated by ritualistic objects such as the chali, a representation of Manasa, the goddess of snakes. In a conversation earlier this year with London-based curator and researcher Grant Watson, Chanda talked about being surrounded by a “strong female energy”, of his grandmother and her jamdanis, which perhaps led to his interest in textiles. He even specialised in textiles at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, which he joined in 2009.
A module on craft documentation took him to Bengal’s West Medinipur, where he studied the art of masland madur, or finely woven reed mats. “However, beyond these technical skills, it was the peripheral things that stayed with him, such as the couple’s morning ritual using tulsi (Holy Basil) that on the face of it might appear superstitious, but which he believes enhanced their productivity,” writes Watson. It is such observations that have come together in works such as Shapeshifter and the Deity series.
It is only now that Chanda can place his fascination with rituals and associated objects in context. “Growing up, I didn’t understand why I could relate to these rituals, objects and practices more than toys, sports or the sort of things boys are supposed to be interested in. Today, these objects help me investigate and understand how human sentiments are expressed through object making,” says the artist.
Though Chanda worked in the textile space for some time, his work today dissociates textiles from their function and purpose, breaking down forms and interpreting them. “I worked in the textile design space for five-six years, and, as rewarding as it was, the process became a little limiting for me. I couldn’t express myself through the rigidity of the process. I wanted to make objects I could relate to,” he says.
He took the loom out of the equation, working only on frames. Though he still works with the warp and weft, the use is not as extensive. “I have reduced the reliance on tools. My work now is more organic and immediate. Physically, I am more involved in the piece I am making than I would have been if working with the loom,” says Chanda. His process has acquired the form of a self-ritual. In Deity, for instance, he kept layering old kantha quilts till they acquired a certain form. He does the same with ceramics—glazing in a way that he can see his fingerprints and the way he has moulded the clay. The human touch and its manifestation is integral to Chanda’s process.
He always works large-scale. “The process feels a lot more intimate to me if the pieces are large-scale. I want the work to look back at me. I want the pieces to have a sense of infinity and continuity,” says Chanda. Roberts-Komireddi sums it up: “Chanda’s work builds bridges between lived, imagined and past worlds, sensitising the viewer to the proximity of all.”