Namita Paul: The Blue Sari - Statement & Bio
The blue sari has a commanding presence in my studio. Draped on a mannequin, it is traditional, opulent and striking; as a background of a still life, it rests in its majesty. And occasionally, it is the still life—transforming into a bodily landscape as light dances across its sensual and structural folds and creases.
It feels alien. It feels native. It speaks. It taunts. It threatens. It consoles. Never the same, it asks, who are you? Are you worthy?
No wonder, it’s the garb of goddesses.
I often stare at it in wonder.
Is it blue? Is it green?
Aquamarine? Maya Azul?
Peacock blue. Krishna’s blue. Tiffany blue.
Balearic Sea. California sky. Swimming pools.
Hand dyed and handwoven by descendants of Sage Markanda, the weaver of the Gods,
On a loom almost bigger than its house
A symbol of certainty amidst swirling change,
The sari stands witness.
Hand woven by artisans in Southern India, the Kanjeevaram or Kanchipuram saree is a centuries old traditional attire. These sarees are often woven in weavers’ homes, where large looms occupy a central place taking up a significant part of the house. In much the same manner, the saree graces my home with its presence, connecting me to artisans and histories across continents and time. Someday, it will connect my daughter to this history, story, and thread. This blue sari, gifted to me as a mother-to-be, is at the center of my current series. Using oil paints, I investigate and learn its rich array of colors as the light passes through it during the course of the day. In doing so, I explore the ineffable through the lens of intimacy, family, and womanhood. Although I have several sarees, each unique in its own way, I keep returning to this one. I suppose you could say the blue sari has chosen me.
Namita’s formative years were peripatetic; her father’s work took them across India. She grew up in four different states, each with its own cultural identity. Namita learned a new language with each move, adapted to new foods, clothing, and customs, learning to celebrate the novelty of the experience, overcome challenges, and feel comfortable being the Other. Such a diverse upbringing prepared her well for the field of fashion, a highly interdisciplinary arena. After having graduated from the National Institute of Fashion Technology in New Delhi, Namita joined the fashion world. Her work took her to more places – Thailand, Switzerland, Germany, France, and England – leading to additional social, ethnic, and artistic absorptions, thus enriching her multicultural lens.
Her move to the United States as a wife and a young mother, and subsequent return to school at the University of Washington, helped her articulate her thinking and making processes. She developed her artistic skills through coursework in printmaking and surface design. She was deeply influenced by knowledge of art history specifically the feminist movement and artists of the 70s. Her time at the university also helped her examine her own place in the melting pot. Once again, she was coming to terms with her own locatedness, and what Homi K. Bhabha calls “in-betweenness.” Recognizing these in-between spaces and, with a nod to the eternal slogan “personal is political,” Namita turned her attention to society’s power structures and how they affected women’s various identities as immigrants, members of the work force, wives, and mothers, weaving knowledge from these explorations into her artistic practice. Using quotidian objects, textiles, family photographs, and role playing, Namita constructs domestic spaces that are familiar and recognizable. Her work seeks to bridge chasms, interrogate concepts of ‘home’ and belonging, reflect hybridity and merge landscapes and times. Interdisciplinary in training, she is currently an oil painter, bridging gaps between the past and present through medium, techniques, and subject matter.
Namita lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area.