Humans may come and go but memories never leave. Such was the narrative behind RISD alumni Aparajita Jain Mahajan's exhibit Tracing Memories at the recently concluded group show Building Ruins. The thought provoking and deeply philosophical work by the artist made me wonder about the continued process of meaning-making that accompanies memory. The left-over material from her late mother's store stitched, knotted and stuffed with some her cherished moments, out there in the public space perphaps now to look for newer narratives to contain within itself. I asked the artist about everything that went behind the scenes. Excerpts as follows:
When and how did your romance with the arts begin?
I grew up in a home with a specific colour palette and aesthetic. Thinking visually was a natural result of the creative atmosphere that surrounded me in my late mother's work and home. The tactile nature of materials has always interested me. How a simple fabric and thread could be manipulated by human hands into creating something special; hearing stories about how my mother convinced her father to send her to JJ school of arts in the 60s; being immersed in nature while I studied in Rishi Valley - all these factors subconsciously led to my love for the arts.
What did the process of creating this artwork look like? Did you have any end picture in mind when you started?
Once I read our curator's brief (Building Ruins), I instantly knew I was going to work with Haveli katrans and my unfinished art works to create an installation “Tracing Memories”. By using these materials that got frozen in their paths each having their own story, to create a connection between the past and the present. I have a very instinctive and subconscious way of working. The first step was to intuitively sieve through the vast amounts material and separate it into groups of what was relevant. Amongst researching forms, doodling shapes, jotting down thoughts, I navigated between the materials and what I was visualising. Soon the Katran turned to shapes. The process of deciding the threads was nostalgic as I found myself working in the same way as my mother did in her apparel work at Haveli. There is a lot of detailing using mark making with stitching. When all the components were complete, I pre-planned the layout of the installation on paper by marking and numbering them. The overall form of the work from a trail on the floor to it climbing the walls and ultimately floating through space being held by delicate yet very strong lines was an interesting and organic progression of my thoughts.
While Tracing Memories seems like a deeply personal project for you, what did you want the audience to take away from it?
As the audience interacted with ‘Tracing Memories’, I wanted them to travel with the movement, pause, experience the colours, think through the details and weave their own interpretation and create their own story. For those familiar with Haveli Textiles (my late mother's pioneering apparel store 1987-2015), knowing these textiles from another context triggered their own set of memories and emotions.
Few years ago, when Haveli closed it left me with numerous boris & potlis of exquisite katran, remnants of my mother’s legacy, awaiting to resume the journey that was cut short abruptly. Also lay in my studio, unfinished works of art that feared oblivion and yearned to be breathed back to life. “Tracing Memories” gives the forgotten pieces a renewed destiny: woven, stuffed, stitched and knotted together. It fulfils their longing to be part of a meandering trail to new destinations, a second chance for ruins to reincarnate.
The show was multidisciplinary. What do you personally think is the relevance of this intermingling of different medium in contemporary times?
The juxtaposition of thoughts answering the same brief being expressed in an array of materials is extremely intriguing. Use of various medium with the underlying thought of second chances, of finding light where you may find darkness, of transforming a ruin meanders through life has a relevance in today’s context. What gets left behind in various states of being, this gives them a renewed destiny!
I want to create a series reflecting the idea of meeting, conversing, smiling, arguing, laughing with strangers weaving these unknown connections in mixed media artworks. The "where" of the interaction sets the tone for these exchanges of energy between people.
Text Unnati Saini