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Mobile Palace’ takes a look at Indian textile history through a contemporary lens | Pro Club Bd

The exhibition mobile palace features a series of immersive textile installations created by contemporary artist Swapnaa Tamhane at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto. As part of the exhibition, curated by Deepali Dewan, the ridge and valley effect created with the textiles suspended from the roof confirms at first glance what runs seamlessly through the exhibition: the essence of non-linear temporality and in-between spaces. The color and pattern of the motifs on the textile require a closer look to appreciate the uniqueness of each design, carefully crafted on the immersive installation. As each of the marks defies the stated assumptions, the impressions become an act of resistance – the term ubiquitous in her major artistic practice. The distinctive appearance of the design renews the critical desire to see the world through new eyes.




Printing blocks used in design for mobile palace, 2019, Teak (Saag), Swapnaa Tamhane, with Mukesh, Pragnesh and Avdhesh Prajapati and Bhavesh Rajnikant Image: Courtesy of Swapnaa Tamhane and Royal Ontario Museum


The origin of these motifs can be found within the exhibition mobile palace, lies within the modernist architecture of Le Corbusier’s Ahmedabad Textile Mill Owners’ Association House. With the exhibition, Tamhane wanted to turn it into decorative, soft architecture. In an interview with STIR, the artist mentions: “I traced the building from motifs, translating the entrance ramp, alcoves and brise-soleil from the outside into block print designs.” social economy remains, the textile in the hands of the Tamhane is also a witness to the history of transience.



Detailed image of Mobile Palace panel, 2019-2021, Natural dyes, appliques and beads on cotton, Swapnaa Tamhane, with Salemamad Khatri and Mukesh, Pragnesh and Avdhesh Prajapati and Bhavesh Rajnikant.  Support from Sine Kundargi-Girard and Lydia Haywood-Munn |  Swapnaa Tamhane: Mobile Palace |  STIRworld
Detailed image of the panel mobile palace, 2019–2021, Natural Dyes, Appliques and Beads on Cotton, Swapnaa Tamhane, with Salemamad Khatri and Mukesh, Pragnesh and Avdhesh Prajapati and Bhavesh Rajnikant. Support from Sine Kundargi-Girard and Lydia Haywood-Munn Image: Courtesy of Swapnaa Tamhane and Royal Ontario Museum


“The artworks begin with cotton and its importance in the independence movement in India, the role of textile mills and handlooms, and the architecture that was commissioned in the post-independence landscape. I’m interested in how one motif can mean several complex ideas at the same time,” adds Tamhane. The panels made in cotton mill in mobile palace are printed and dyed in natural colors. The presence of indigo with colonial values ​​does not go unnoticed in the exhibition. The artist traces its importance in colonial discourse: “Indigo is significant in its historical underpinnings, reminiscent of the peasant-led uprising against British planters in 1859, and the once lush growth in Sindh that has all but disappeared. The use of indigo also relates to the current desire for handicrafts, including dyeing yarn for khadi and khadi denim used by designers.”



Artist Swapnaa Tamhane |  Swapnaa Tamhane: Mobile Palace |  STIRworld
Artist Swapnaa Tamhane Image: Brandon Brookbank


Central to the exhibition are three cotton cloth installations created from a heavily patterned block-printed fabric. On the one hand, the installations reproduce the curved ceiling of the cathedral-like auditorium in the building, on the other hand they are transformed into a shamiana (tent) – ubiquitous in the great Ottoman or Mughal culture. In addition, Tamhane strives to recontextualize notions of decoration and pattern in compositions reminiscent of tent forms used in India. Sophisticated in its construction, decoration and adornment, the shamiana was synonymous with the core of power in the pre-colonial period, as its etymology suggests: the Persian word Shah means king and miyana means center.



A Space for the Ceremony of Close Readings, 2018. Natural dyes on cotton, cotton tassels, acrylic lantern and audio reading by Swapnaa Tamhane, 2021, Swapnaa Tamhane, with Salemamad Khatri and Mukesh Prajapati |  Swapnaa Tamhane: Mobile Palace |  STIRworld
Tent: A room for the Close Readings ceremony, 2018. Natural dyes on cotton, cotton tassels, acrylic lantern and audio reading by Swapnaa Tamhane, 2021, Swapnaa Tamhane, with Salemamad Khatri and Mukesh Prajapati Image: Courtesy of Swapnaa Tamhane and Royal Ontario Museum


With the start of the British Raj, the shamiana was equated with the makeshift tents: a home for nomads who lead a constant itinerant life. The peripatetic way of life was in contrast to the colonizers’ ideas of a secure livelihood. Its sociological synonymy as temporary, ephemeral and unreliable makes shamiana a metaphor for gray morality. As part of the immersive exhibition, viewers are invited to enter and experience the tents. The tent – a performance in itself – brings with it a suspension of disbelief: the fantastical element gazes at the world beyond the borders of the state. The audience not only reflects on the staging – also on the inner workings of the shamiana – but also to what lies beyond the theatrical space – the outside world.



Detail of panel from Mobile Palace, 2019-2021, Natural dyes, appliques and beads on cotton, Swapnaa Tamhane, with Salemamad Khatri and Mukesh, Pragnesh and Avdhesh Prajapati and Bhavesh Rajnikant.  Support from Sine Kundargi-Girard and Lydia Haywood-Munn |  Swapnaa Tamhane: Mobile Palace |  STIRworld
detail of the panel mobile palace, 2019–2021, Natural Dyes, Appliques and Beads on Cotton, Swapnaa Tamhane, with Salemamad Khatri and Mukesh, Pragnesh and Avdhesh Prajapati and Bhavesh Rajnikant. Support from Sine Kundargi-Girard and Lydia Haywood-Munn Image: Courtesy of Swapnaa Tamhane and Royal Ontario Museum


In addition, the layered fabric compositions quickly challenge the colonial hierarchies between arts and crafts. In a country like India – which is characterized by diversity – the artisans and artisans across the vast subcontinent share a wide range of skills and extensive knowledge. as the title of the exhibition mobile palace suggests – the reification of the colonial semblance of order – it also attempts to question and disrupt the hierarchies, working with quote-on-quote crafts such as woodcuts, block prints, embroidery or ornaments by adding conceptual meaning to them. Tamhane frequently collaborates with artists based in Gujarat, India to bring their creative process to fruition: “I want to collapse all of those divisions between the ideas of what art, craft and design is into visual encounters that capture all of those ideas bring together, even on the surface of a textile. The wood cutter Mukesh Prajapati, the block printer Salemamad Khatri and the artisans of Qasab Kutch are always mentioned in my work.”



Installation view of Swapnaa Tamhane: Mobile Palace |  Swapnaa Tamhane: Mobile Palace |  STIRworld
Installation view from Swapnaa Tamhane: Mobile Palace Image: Courtesy of Swapnaa Tamhane and Royal Ontario Museum


Tamhane’s response to the rich textile traditions and techniques practiced in India, with the contemporary lens, is reflected in the sweeping textiles and incongruent design of the lines. Furthermore, the performative character of the tent activates the spaces in between to maneuver the spectators to experience what lies outside the limited terrain of inclusion and exclusion. “I would love for visitors to feel enveloped by the richness of the block print, noticing all the breaks in the patterns and drawing their attention from the glittering embroidery. Each included textile is unique in its print and color application, with further additions of appliqué and beading. Finally, I want viewers to learn about these new forms of collaboration, reflect on the history of materials like cotton and indigo, and reconsider decoration and ornamentation as metaphors for broader ideas,” concludes Tamhane.




Mobile Palace: Collaboration in the Process, Royal Ontario Museum, 2022 Video: Francesco Shank and Rameshwar Bhatt


The art exhibition mobile palace runs at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, through August 1, 2022

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