Artist Anushka Divecha is Merging Textiles with Scents and Memories

Anushka Divecha is an artist and textile designer based in Brooklyn, and for years now she's been using her prior experience as a graphic designer to create textiles with unique use of color, patterns, and illustration. 

Divecha remains committed to traditional weaving techniques while also looking for opportunities to use these techniques in contemporary ways. 

During our interview with Divecha, we asked her to walk us through a textile series she created that was heavily inspired by the isolation brought about by the pandemic and memories of her home in India. 

Divecha shared details on the intent behind these pieces, how certain pieces were created, and exhibition of various pieces from this series. 

We can easily say that this series demonstrates a truly original approach to textile creation and immersive art. 

Please read on to learn more. 

Can you tell us about the premise of your immersive textile series that you've been working on recently? 

Divecha: The COVID-19 Pandemic brought about an epidemic of isolation. Eight thousand miles from home, I turned to food for comfort. Turning to food in times of distress is not an uncommon act, and psychologists have deemed it a survival tactic. Food memories are said to be some of the most powerful, as they encompass all five senses. 

These memories are so compelling, as their nature isn’t only shaped by survival, but also the context, the company, the place, and the emotion. As a textile designer, I used food and sensorial memories to evoke place and time, to make my home feel within reach. 

I not only wanted to invite people to experience the warmth of the kitchen, but wanted to design fabrics that they could take, easily transport, and use in their spaces to comfort themselves when they felt isolated. These textiles are the materialization of nostalgia through food.

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"Bazaar" - Anushka Divecha

Would you say that textiles have an inherently nostalgic quality for most people?

Divecha: Textiles are omnipresent and have been around for centuries. We all use them. We wear them, sleep and sit on them, use them to shield us from the elements, to comfort ourselves, and, more recently, we've used them to protect ourselves from a virus! 

Textiles have an inherently nostalgic quality because they are not just visual, they’re palpable. They can be touched and felt. When so many senses are engaged, we tend to remember so much more about them. When I touch organza, I am immediately transported to India, watching my grandmother draping her organza sari. When I see block-printed fabric, it reminds me of home. I'm sure certain textiles evoke specific memories for everyone.

Can you walk us through some of the titles for the pieces in this series? 

Divecha: In this series, my piece “Aromatics" is filled with spices commonly used in my family recipes. It is a large collection of woven “jars” filled with bay leaves, star anise, pepper, kokum, javentri, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves. Woven on the Jacquard Loom, Aromatics is an amalgamation of technology and handiwork. 

Designed with a complex woven structure to form a transparent 3-D gauze weave, pockets are woven into the fabric that can be filled. "Aromatics" was made to be hung on a wall with the intention to fill up a space with warmth and envelope it in the aroma of spices. It is interactive, sensorial, and comforting. 

Another woven textile named “Rasoi”, which means “Kitchen” in Gujarati, was also woven using the same technique as "Aromatics." This piece was a snapshot of my kitchen shelves, stocked with spices, lentils, and ingredients commonly used in Indian cooking. 

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"Rasoi" (Detail) - Anushka Divecha

“From My Kitchen, I See Coconut Trees” is a piece woven on the handloom, inspired by the coconut trees I can see from my kitchen at home in India. Jute represents the natural, organic trees, while the grid-like, structured cotton is reminiscent of the window. Woven on a spaced warp, the rope weaves in and out and interlocks at intervals to give the fabric more structure. The bottom of the textile is woven with thicker, denser, darker manila rope, like the thick tree trunks, and as you go up, the materials get thinner and lighter, ending with thin jute at the top.  

"From My Kitchen, I See Coconut Trees" - Anushka Divecha

“Bazaar” which means “Market” in Hindi was made by layering concrete, a material heavily prevalent in the bazaar I frequent back home, onto muslin. Cooking at home is so much more than just the dish on the plate, it is about the context of when or how the food is being prepared. Eating food from home also involves going to the bustling marketplace in Bangalore to procure ingredients. "Bazaar" plays with the opacity and translucency of concrete, often seen as an opaque, hard, cold material. However, when combined with fabric, concrete has an incredible luminosity when shown against light. Scenes from the bazaar were painted with dye on the back of the fabrics, which were lit from behind with a warm, glowing light, making the material come alive. 

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"Bazaar" (Detail) - Anushka Divecha

“An Offering” is comprised of pouches that are filled with spices. A derivative of "Aromatics," it was woven on the jacquard loom. Since cooking and eating are so much about sharing, these pouches were a way for the viewer to take a small piece of the work back with them. Since this series was displayed during the pandemic, "An Offering" was also a way to ensure that the viewer could enjoy the aroma of the spices in the safety of their homes.

anushka divecha art

"An Offering" - Anushka Divecha

Approximately how long has it taken to complete each piece, from start to finish? 

Divecha: This series was completed in a span of five months. This included sketching, painting, ideating, sampling, and planning. Since all the pieces were large-scale, they required a lot of time and dedication. For "Aromatics," the weaving itself took about three hours on the Jacquard Loom, but it took a lot of time to fill in each pocket, paint the visual, digitize it, and design the weave structures on the software. 

For my handwoven textile, it took a day to set up the loom and a few days to weave the final piece. For "Bazaar," it was an incredibly involved process as I had to manually apply the concrete to the fabric and had to wait for it to dry completely before I could move on to the next step. The time spent on each piece differed according to the material, loom, and technique.

How do you choose the type of loom you use to create each piece? What considerations go into that decision? 

Divecha: To choose which loom you use to create a textile, you have to consider a few things: what material you want to use, how complex you want your weave structure to be, and what the end product will be. If you want to use really thin, fine yarn and want to create a complex, layered fabric, it makes more sense to use a Jacquard loom, since weaving something complicated with thin fibers can take months to complete by hand. 

If you want to have more control and experiment with weaving, the handloom is the best possible way to try out different things. Since it is operated completely by hand, you have full control over how to manipulate your material. You can knot, twist, cut, and do whatever you would like with the weft to create something visually and texturally stimulating. If you want the basic structure to be designed but still want some creative control during the weaving process, choosing a hybrid loom like the Dobby is your best bet, as you design the file using software, but it is not fully mechanized like the Jacquard, so you can still manipulate and change the material to a certain extent.

"From My Kitchen, I See Coconut Trees" - Anushka Divecha

Can you give us a sense of the color palettes used throughout this series? 

Divecha: Since my series was focused on food, particularly Indian food, I wanted to draw color from real life. I went through my pantry and brought out spices and lentils and created a color palette using gouache paint. Gouache is my go-to when making a color palette, as it is matte and gives you the best pay-off when color matching, as there is no light bouncing off it. 

The colors I used in this series were mostly warm and natural since I derived them directly from the source. During this series, I always went back and added new colors to my palette if I encountered one that I could work with. In some of my early experiments, I dyed yarn using food. I used tea, turmeric, onion skins, pomegranate skins, and seeds to create a natural color palette. I did not end up using these but hope to make use of them in the future.

Do you have any exhibition plans for this series? 

Divecha: I exhibited a piece from this series in a group show called “Have You Eaten?” in Williamsburg, New York, which was curated by artist Sonja John. I also exhibited this series in a group show named “Interwoven” which was displayed in a gallery in Tribeca for New York Textile Month 2021. 

Currently, I am not displaying these anywhere, but I am always on the lookout for opportunities to display this series! I would also love to add new work to it, once I have access to more textile equipment!

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