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Art at the tip of a needle

An exhibition of vintage and new textile-art pieces as Sarita Handa completes 25 years

Thread work by artist Gunjan Arora.
Thread work by artist Gunjan Arora.

In 1992, Sarita Handa began her eponymous home furnishing collection from a workshop in Tughlaqabad in New Delhi and became a pioneer of what we now find commonplace: the reinvention of traditional textiles for a contemporary sensibility. Retailing through a store in Delhi and one in Mumbai, and exporting to international brands like Pottery Barn, Macy’s and Bloomingdale, Handa covers a gamut of needlework techniques and weaves. This includes home linen and upholstery fabric (they also do furniture) in Suzani, appliqué work, quilting and crewel work, beautifully textured jacquard weaves, psychedelic Ikats and vibrant block prints.

“Thinking about how to commemorate 25 years, I thought we must present our history, but also reflect on what is to come in the future" says Handa in a phone interview. A two-day exhibition at Bikaner House in Delhi will showcase a section on historical textiles and another on collaborations with contemporary artists. The vintage section is made of 25-30 pieces from the company’s archives, curated by Handa over time. “Some go back to early 19th century hand-silk, flatbeds, often the fabric is falling apart, but the dyes are still so rich," says Handa.

In the other section, artist and sculptor Satish Gupta engages with textiles to express notions of zen and mysticism. Artists Gunjan Arora and Rahul Jain use yarn, cut fabric, zari and metallic threads to create hand-mudras. Mumbai-based artist Arrti Mansinghka uses textile patchwork to create a collage of the meandering Ganga and Varanasi, paying ode to the historic textile city. Bengaluru-based designer Jeevan Xavier does a film series. “There’s a conversation between Jeevan and one of our master craftsmen, who tells Jeevan, “hamari rozi roti ek sui ki nok pe chalti hai, sui ki nok chahe silayi ki ho ya quilting se ho, ya embroidery se ho (our livelihood is dependent on the tip of a needle, be it a sewing, quilting or embroidery needle)," recalls Handa, an exchange brought out in one of the video artworks by Xavier.

While the exhibition has been curated and designed by the team at Sarita Handa, textile designer Mayank Mansingh Kaul has lent a helping hand with the overview and interior designer Amit Chhabra—who has previously designed interiors for Sarita Handa stores—is part of the team that has helmed the design of the exhibit.

With this part historical, part forward-looking exhibition, Handa attempts to answer her own question, one that she raised earlier, about what’s to come in the future. “I think this could be the beginning of The Sarita Handa Art Foundation. That’s my vision."

25 Years Of Sarita Handa is being held from 28-29 October, 11am-7pm, at Bikaner House, New Delhi.

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