Priya Ravish Mehra’s biennale works put the spotlight on traditional darning

Priya Ravish Mehra’s participation at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale unravels a rare technique of woven tapestries, combining fragments of discarded weaves with paper pulp.

The artist’s experimentation with fibres has its roots in her childhood in Najibabad, a town in Uttar Pradesh. Local rafoogars, or darners, regularly brought antique shawls from Kashmir and other precious fabrics to her family home. As the traditional darning skills were passed down from one generation of artisans to another, a young Priya was increasingly drawn towards the world of textiles.

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For the artist, who died last year at the age of 57 after suffering from cancer, her work has metaphorical meanings that represent the act of repair as a response to sudden disruptions in the general order of things.

“I employ the metaphor of rafoogari or traditional darning to invoke sudden, unexpected and violent rupture in our daily experience. It is a symbolic affirmation of the place, significance and act of existential ‘repair’,” the artist had said about her work.

According to the biennale, Priya’s woven tapestries deploy the metaphor of ŗta, suggesting cosmic order or truth, which is a Hindi term used in Indian philosophy. Elaborating on the artist’s practice, Anita Dube, the biennale curator, says Priya had, in some of her early works, tried to convey the realisation about these universal rhythms of ŗta. “In the body of work on view here, she has extended the idea of invisible repair in the rafoogari process by using fragments,” she adds.

An exhibition of Priya’s works, on view at Aspinwall House, includes many of her innovative mixed-media works and early textiles, where she has used wood, fiber, paper and cloth. Scrolls and tapestries hanging from the ceiling, and a wide range of works mounted on the wall form part of the presentation.

A particularly striking piece of work is a large hand-done darn on Pashmina cloth that stands out for its innovation and beauty. In other exhibits, the artist has used nature dyes on cloth, which are seen alongside mounted works made out of twigs, thread and paper pulp.

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