Sagarika Sundaram makes abstract painting and sculpture with felted wool, using natural dyeing and craft techniques from India and around the world. With indigenous wool sourced from the Himalayas to Hudson Valley, Sundaram’s practice is in dialogue with notions of migration and nomadism as age-old expressions of pacifist values. She received her MFA in Textiles at Parsons School of Design.
- I think with textiles it's,
somehow it activates a part of my brain
that makes me feel alive,
and it's a combination of art and science.
So on one hand you have color and composition,
but then on the other hand you also has chemistry
when it comes to the dying process.
And then when I'm working with felt
and thinking about structure and form,
often it feels like an exercise in engineering.
Obviously it's also the tactility of working with my hands
and working with color.
I just feel awake with textiles.
I feel so lucky that I was born in India because India
and South Asia at large has the longest unbroken tradition
of living textiles in the world.
So you find techniques and practices
that are not even present as hobbies.
These are livelihoods.
Another thing about being from India
is that I'm endlessly inspired by the architecture.
There's a thousand year old temples
just in my grandmother's village,
because these all embody ways of thinking
that feed my own work.
Felt is one of the oldest textiles known to mankind.
So you take sheep wool,
any animal fiber that has scales in it,
and you compose it in loose piles
on the floor or on a table,
and then you soak these loose piles in hot soapy water,
and then you roll them up, roll up this composition,
and then you apply friction.
And so what happens with the hot water
is that the fiber opens up and exposes its scales,
and these scales when you apply friction,
connect to each other and then interlock
into a dense fabric known as felt.
Sourcing is really important for me.
And I source from farms around the world.
And when I source,
it's important for me to source from people who grow fiber.
It's not something that I buy from the shop.
It's like if you ask somebody, where does milk come from,
and they say milk comes from the supermarket.
I mean, how does that make sense?
In the same way wool comes from a sheep.
A sheep eats plants to grow that wool,
and the plant is growing from the soil
that synthesizes sunlight.
So it's all part of a natural carbon cycle.
I want to make a case to celebrate these indigenous wools.
Once I went to Morocco
and I went to the high Atlas mountains
and I visited weavers, Berber women who weave rugs,
and I just pulled out my phone
and showed them pictures of my work.
And I showed them images of me carding my wool,
mixing my colors, and there was a woman there,
you know, wearing a hijab, sitting over there
and she must have been 60 years old or so.
She obviously has a very different life story to me,
a very different cultural context,
but we were able to connect as makers.
We were doing the same thing.
And then I sat with them and started weaving with them.
We don't need to say anything.
We're just moving our hands and pointing at things
and saying, Hey, you know, this is right, this is wrong.
They appreciate also that I quickly pick up things
and I respect what they do.
It's almost like communicating with my body,
and I find that process so enjoyable.
I have many sketchbooks.
I have one sketchbook that is an embellishment diary.
So every little piece I make like a beaded piece,
so a little woven piece or a little knitted patch
goes into that book cause that's my library of ideas
that I then go in and draw back from.
It's the way I think when I,
before I start a piece of work,
I'm working in my sketchbook.
It's almost like me warming up, choosing colors,
drawing with crayons, thinking about basic shapes,
negotiating construction ideas.
The sketchbook is where I do all of this.
Last year, I created my first large scale piece of work
that's called Oracle,
and that was when I first felt like I exploded.
And when I made that piece of work, it's a blue work with,
that looks like an ocean floor, a map.
It has these sea creature like forms
that erupt like flowers,
that they're almost gonna feel like they're going to eat me.
I put it up, and then I had to take some time
just between me and it and sit with it
and just look at it and talk to it
and actually let it talk to me.
It was telling me a lot of things, non-verbally,
and that's when I really knew that I have to continue this.
I cannot stop this.
I would be doing a disservice to my own self
if I don't stop doing this.
That's when I knew that I'm an artist.
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