Symposium Exhibition: Cotton, Beads & Sugar

The Whitfield, 106 E. 37th St.

Cotton, Beads & Sugar: Textile Triangulations of Coastal Exchange between India, Africa, & US

cotton-beads-sugarCurated by Namita Gupta Wiggers

Exhibiting Artists: Surabhi Ghosh and Raksha Parekh + objects assembled by Medha Bhatt and Namita Gupta Wiggers

This exhibition reflects research to date, and encourages conference attendees to continue a dialogue about connections between South Asia and coastal regions of Africa. The exhibition includes work by two artists: Surabhi Ghosh and Raksha Parekh, and research through objects assembled by Medha Bhatt and Namita Gupta Wiggers. The exhibition examines broader questions regarding textiles in the South Asian diaspora through inclusion of contemporary artists working through textiles and public presentation of research through objects, photographs and texts. Collectively, this project addresses the questions from within the South Asian diaspora, bringing India, Africa, and the United States into the dialogue- operating as Salman Rushdie has noted: the history of the West will be rewritten from within.

The two artists introduce connections between crops and colonialism through textiles, specifically, via contemporary art linked to the materials and histories of cotton and sugar. Surabhi Ghosh works through textiles in a minimal, understated approach that explores the edges of ornament. Inspired by the politics of khadi, her works on view will address this cloth conceptually and materially. Raksha Parekh’s work pivots from sugar, an overlooked commodity crop as critical to colonial empire building and global migration as cotton. Parekh’s work employs sugar as a source for inquiry, as a material in a range of forms, and a vehicle to explore the simultaneity of her African and Indian identity.

Medha Bhatt, textile artist and sociologist from India, provides a historical context. Through photographs taken at a museum that has remained closed to the public for over 50 years, as well as examples of beadwork from her family’s collection, she will share how the glass bead altered cultural exchange on trade routes between East Africa and Gujarat since the medieval period. Namita Gupta Wiggers, a US-born curator and writer of South Asian origin, brings the conversation into the contemporary moment, through texts and work by artists such as Jane Makhubele, whose safety-pin works recall zari and shisha embroidery from Gujarat, as evidence of contemporary cultural exchange and interpretation via textiles, as well as examples of Gujarati beadwork purchased in Johannesburg which echoes Zulu beadwork.

Textile designer by training, Artist, Craft-researcher and Naturalist by passion, Medha Bhatt’s interests range from creating textile art from fabric discards to initiating “Bug Club” for children to create awareness about natural history. Bhatt is a graduate of the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and currently pursuing graduate studies in Sociology. She has been part of Pattanam Archaeological Excavations and has presented her ethnographic research on bead-work at the British Museum, London. Bhatt is also the recipient of the INTACH-UK Project grant for this research. She runs “The Forest Floor ” that creates up-cycled art and craft products from household discards.

Surabhi Ghosh was born in Houston and grew up moving around the United States with her adventurous family. She received her MFA in fiber from Cranbrook Academy of Art and her BFA in fabric design from the University of Georgia. She is currently Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator of Fibres and Material Practices at Concordia University in Montréal. She previously taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Oregon. Recent exhibitions of her work and collaborative projects have been at Ditch Projects (Springfield, OR), Manifold (Chicago), and the Museum of Contemporary Craft (Portland).

Curator Namita Gupta Wiggers is an artist, curator, educator, and writer based in Portland, OR. She leads Critical Craft Forum, and teaches in the MFA Applied Craft + Design, OCAC + PNCA. From 2004-14, she originated numerous textile-focused exhibitions as Director and| Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Craft. Recent writing includes: special issue for Art Practical (2015), Surface Design Journal (2015) and an essay in Craft on Demand: The New Politics of the Handmade (2016). She is curating a textile exhibition for the Wing Luke Museum of Asian American Experience (2016), and is Editor, Companion on Contemporary Craft for Wiley Blackwell (2019).

Raksha Parekh is an artist of Indian origin is based in Los Angeles, CA. Born and raised in Zambia, she received her BA, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, which was her home in the 1980’s during apartheid. She was a member of the Black Student Society (the university had a quota for black students), an organization run by black South Africans. Its sympathies lay with the struggle for freedom, the ANC (African National Congress) and the PAC (Pan African Congress). In the early 90‘s, Parekh attended the masters program at Otis College of Art and Design.

All exhibitions have been organized in partnership with Art Rise Savannah

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