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Topography of a Stitched Landscape

Gopika Nath

with an introduction by Ina Puri

Tracing the history of textiles in India it is interesting to see how practices gradually broke away from the traditional space, to occupy centre stage for some contemporary artists. The needle became the brush, seeking to illuminate, provoke and create an identity (for itself) that, went beyond the feminine domain.

Needlework, associated for long with the feminine and domestic embroidery, now became experimental and contemporary – a genre recognized for its unique place in the art scene. As one of the leading practitioners, Gopika strikes out in a new direction which is both provocative and innovative. She uses photography, digital printing on fabric, alongside techniques that involve burning, layering, shredding, as well as embroidering, on cotton voile, silk organza and other ephemeral fabrics.

She re-contextualises the notions of stitching as an art, once meant to showcase the skills of a marriageable girl, into a wholly new space. Deeply autobiographical, her technique is to use the cross-stitch and running stitch [Kantha] to add texture to the fabric that is stained with tea. She stitches in delicate cursive hand, ’Bitch/Liar/Slob’. Hurtful insults hurled, heard and ignored are transformed into motifs elegantly embroidered on her cloth fragments.

Creatively interpreting the 18th century tailor-saint and mystic Dariya Sahib of Bihar, she says:

‘Only when, these marks left by pain,
have faded in the knowing light, will love
shine forth to share the secret of it to gain’

[from the verse फरे मन सुमिरे ले सत्तनाम के फिरि औसर टरी।]

In Gopika’s artistic practice, through her stitched narrative, both traditions of craft and contemporary conceptual undertakings meld fluidly. Her compositions, layered and delicate combine sutures, colour, texture, and a surface detailing that make the work appear both as a fragment of detail and an overall map of definition.

Deeply autobiographical, her work presents art as cathartic and healing through searing honesty in the microscopic examination of self. In sharing the textures of her wounds, she reaches out towards healing macro dimensions of the universe.

Through her art, she inhabits, as it were, the diverse pluralism of a lyrical elsewhereness and the earthiness of the immediate and now. The layers of fabric bind memories and metaphors. The ascetic severities of her medium notwithstanding, you get a glimpse of an inner romantic self. Unbidden, these words by Louise Bourgeois come to mind:“If you hold a naked child against your naked breast, it is not the end of softness, it is the beginning of softness, life itself”.

Dregs In Your Tea-cup – III, 7 X 7 Inches – unframed, 2010
Material:  cotton voile, gauze bandage, cotton floss, cotton-polyester thread
Technique: photography, digital printing, tearing, layering, stitching, embroidery


Again and Again II, 6.6 x 8.8 inches – unframed, 2011
Material: Cotton voile, polyester-cotton thread
Technique:  photography, digital print, layering, stitching, embroidery


Fragments of the Whole, 14 x 15 inches – unframed, 2013
Materials: cotton voile, nylon net, silk, cotton-polyester thread
Technique: shibori, kantha, burning, stitching, staining with chai and potassium permanganate dyes


Mapping Mindstains, 15.5 x 17.75 inches – unframed, 2013
Material: cotton fabrics, nylon net, silk, cotton floss, cotton-polyester thread
Technique: layering, tearing, pulling, stitching, staining with tea-leaves.


Memory Footprint, 12 x 15 inches – unframed, 2015
Materials: cotton fabrics, photo paper, cotton floss, silk, cotton-polyester thread.
Technique: pen and ink drawing, burning, layering, hand and machine embroidery, staining with tea -leaves


All photographs by Amitabha Bhattacharya.

Gopika Nath works with needle and thread. A Fulbright Scholar and an alumnus of Central St. Martins, London, U.K, her association with textiles began in 1976. She is a fibre artist, textile designer, writer and teacher. She also initiated the ‘Art for Wear’ movement in India in the early 1990’s with her range of exclusive hand-painted sarees and scarves.

Ina Puri is a writer, biographer, art curator and collector. She is the author of several books, including Faces of Indian Art and Journey with a Hundred Strings.