Sarah Naqvi’s work imbues in it a message- the intent of which, is larger than life itself. It transcends the general scope of a laymen’s thinking abilities. It forges a deeper connect to the problems that have inflicted generations before us and refuse to cease. Her work is an attempt to transform our ignorance and apathy to a newly evolved understanding. It is an attempt to speak about things which have long been hushed.
At the surface, it might seem like her work is a commentary on women’s issues and on the struggles a minority group faces in India, though at the heart of it is a larger perspective. Her work is a culmination of her own experiences and those of others. The topics, although diverse such as female genital mutilation, menstrual taboos, wage gap and communal polarisation, they all tie to each other in some way. Sarah sees a common link between these and seeks to get to the root of the issue. It is true that her work talks about the patriarchal society that exists till today and how women face the brunt of it and how muslims in the aftermath of the cattle slaughter ban in India, were subject to a series of mob lynchings. The underlying motive is to make it easy to talk about these issues which inevitably form India’s reality. It is something which needs to be brought into the limelight and out of the murkiest shadows where it has loomed since time immemorial. One such topic is menstruation. Menstruation, which has long been talked about in whispers and still is today, in parts of the country, is represented through her work in the form of an embellished textile sculpture resembling a tampon. The underlying desire to normalise what has long been trivialised and considered dirty. Sarah shares an experience which is testament to the fact that these issues are not just fables but hard hitting facts. Her mother, at a time when she was pregnant with Sarah’s elder sister, lived in a locality in Mumbai known as Dombivali, which comprised of a dominant Hindu population. It was in the wake of the riots in 1993 that the shroud of vulnerability and insecurity gripped her mother in an unforbearing embrace. Fear grew insidious enough for her to resort to concealing her own identity- she wore bindis and saris to hide her religion. Sarah’s latest work ‘Mata ni Pachedi’, a craft form native to Ahmedabad speaks of this reality. She presents it as an instance of marginalisation which also form the roots from which the craft was birthed. The history of Mata Ni Pachedi testifies the century old disregard towards minorities and divides created in the name of religion. Essentially a temple cloth consisting of a narrative of the mother goddess, it was used by the unfortunate few who were barred from entering temples.
The roots that tie to Sarah’s work today lie partly in her childhood and partly in her experiences. Her mother and grandmother would take to embroidery as a hobby and this was her first encounter with the material. Also,she is rarely hindered by the dirth or choice of medium as she uninhibitedly explores more and more mediums. ‘It feels like the more tactile a surface is the more it can get across’ Sarah tells me. Her words find resonance through her work as we see hoards of textile sculptures, some felted, some stitched and some blending all the techniques known to her in a single masterpiece.
It’s textile’s universality that solidifies her belief in the medium. Everyone has seen, felt and had close associations with cloth. It’s not a foreign medium. It’s potential to transcend minds and make people sit up and think is far reaching. Sarah’s conviction for the same is undying. ‘The moment it is in the mainstream media and it is all around.. it is going to reach people like even though right now I find it really conflicting because it reaches an audience that is either already well aware of this situation or they already have mobile phones and the internet.. it's about going further, going beyond a screen and that will only happen after it seeps in to the depths of it .. while right now it is only in the initial stages of social media like reaching a more metropolitan audience it will get somewhere… because it is always a trickle down effect.. with everything’.
TEXT SUPRIYA JAIN