Le pas de côté

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Le pas de côté

A brief history of the Textile:

Trade and textile have been an integral aspect in the Indian history since the Harrapan Civilization. References to weaving, spinning and embroidery are also found in the Vedic literature. The textile industry was a major component of India’s economy even before the British Raj.

 

"The hand-loom and the spinning-wheel, producing their regular myriads of spinners and weavers, were the pivots of the structure of the society."

Karl Marx

 

Exposure to trade led India to adopt the Eastern culture of woodblock printing. Originating in China in antiquity as a method of printing, on textiles and later paper, this technique was widely adopted throughout East Asia. Printing and dyeing of cotton cloth soon became an important part of the medieval Indian era. Hand printed and embroidered cloth became an essential part of the royal possessions for the Mughals until the 1700s.

With the advent of modernization, this rich culture of hand printing and embroidery was soon substituted with machines. However, India’s rich indigenous culture still thrives today in some remote cities of Rajasthan.

 

 

L’exploration:

Lina Ben Rejeb’s research trips to India sought confinement in her extremely thought provoking but minimalist art practices. She launched her first chapter of 'Le pas de côté' in her first solo exhibit in 2016 at La Boîte in Tunis, titled ‘Nous vivons trop près des machines’, meaning we live too close to machines. This exhibition questioned the mere essence of order and convention due to the simplistic act of interruption in an existing system or method. This exhibit was an attempt to revive and celebrate the traditional block printing technique that once formed a fundamental constituent of the Indian textile industry. She glorified the stamps by enlarging them and transforming fabrics of saris into palimpsest works by superimposing on them new imprints of stamps and embroidery.

 

Second chapter of 'Le pas de côté', Rejeb launched at the Selma Feriani Gallery, Tunis.

Lina Ben Rejeb meticulously focuses on objects that can be seen in the disappearance of words, the disintegration of know-how and the obsolescence of productions. This show questions the inexpressible and stages tension between understanding and incomprehension.

 

Through this educative exhibition, she traces back the Indian craftsmen technique of block printing and hand embroidery. The exhibition occupies three main spaces of the gallery and showcases new works which comprise prints, embroidery, compositions, projection, multimedia work and installation. Placing herself in unfamiliar territories, the artist balances between defining new boundaries using these traditional methodologies, (here referring to embroidery) and the tools parametric functions. There is an exchange between artist and machine, whereby a perpetual inquiry into the exhaustion and technological limits of production is established, exploring the relationship between the two.

In the current series ‘Peintures domestiques II’ (meaning domestic paintings), Ben Rejeb embroidered on the inverted surface of a floral textured cloth, indigenously known as ‘Kalamkari print’. This style flowered around temples and their patronage and so had an almost religious tinge - scrolls, temple hangings, chariot banners and the like, depicted deities and scenes taken from the Hindu epics - Ramayana, Mahabharata, Purana and the mythological classics.

‘Through this gesture of embroidering on the inverted side of the textile, the pattern of the textile is counteracted, as an act of revealing both sides of the cloth.’ as rightly stated in the concept note.

Questioning the basic modus operandi of this conventional technique, the artist disrupts but at the same time successfully redefines its tonality, form and color. By creatively pushing boundaries of the art of embroidery, the artist allows the fatigued surface of the cloth to manifest an alternative personality of its own.

 

Les petites mains II draws attention towards the dying block printing tradition in India. Her artwork speaks about the redundancy of craft and the tradition of wood block printing. This art installation is a collection of some of the abandoned stamps that once ornately adorned the surface of textile cloth. Positioned side by side in a repetitive manner, the individual pattern of each stamp is disrupted- the motifs fade into each other. This installation also resonates with another series of artwork titled La part manquante. Both these artworks emphasize on the element of exhaustion of certain manual labor that persisted in the textile industry but is now replaced by automated machines.

Les petites mains II draws attention towards the dying block printing tradition in India. Her artwork speaks about the redundancy of craft and the tradition of wood block printing. This art installation is a collection of some of the abandoned stamps that once ornately adorned the surface of textile cloth. Positioned side by side in a repetitive manner, the individual pattern of each stamp is disrupted- the motifs fade into each other. This installation also resonates with another series of artwork titled La part manquante. Both these artworks emphasize on the element of exhaustion of certain manual labor that persisted in the textile industry but is now replaced by automated machines.

 The artist’s works provoke questions concerning the distinction between modes of production. In La part manquante we are presented with a painting that manifests the gesture of a sculpture. This artwork reveals multiple surfaces which are revealed in sequences, encouraging the artwork to extend and manifest unfamiliar traces. The artist here questions both the parameter in which an artwork can exist in a definite mediums andthe boundaries of its display. The surface of this work, originally served as underlay cloth, was used by traditional sari cloth manufacturers in India to soak up excess pigment and dye. This material is usually redundant, yet for Ben Rejeb, it captures a history and tradition replaced by machines. The repetitive sequences and layerings of patterns and colours, manifested on the surface, present multiple viewpoints. They become memories of a bygone cultural tradition, which the artist investigates through a representation as an alternative language, encompassing ambiguous forms that transcend defined understandings of materiality and method.

La fin:

Dialoguing with the present while rekindling the past is an important element in Ben Rejeb’s series. Her unique contemporary take on Indian textile reminds one of the many richnesses that are hidden in India’s rich cultural heritage. Le pas de côté articulates the history of artists’ engagement with materiality and texture. Her exploration and research trips to India conclusively unravel the hidden aspects of Indian textile industry and leave a contemporary mark redefining new alternative interpretations within a definite territory, here referring to the textile industry in India.

 

 

 
11 April 2020
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