Artist Viraj Khanna carved a niche in art in his debut show at the India Art Fair 2023 being showcased at the Tao Art Gallery booth. But instead of experimenting with paints, pencils, chalk or ink, he used India’s traditional textiles and embroideries in his artworks. A2zoftrends spoke to the artist and learnt more about his artworks, inspiration behind them and the different techniques he used in the process.
Experimentation is the key in art. Yet only a few artists are able to think out of the box. Artists generally play with mediums but seldom do they blend indigenous textiles. Viraj Khanna’s showcase featured that ‘it’ factor. He collaborated with indigenous karigars of Kolkata and showcased a collection using beads, thread work, zari, aari and zardozi. Viraj took inspiration from his mother, ace fashion designer Anamika Khanna, who focuses on heavy embroidery. However, instead of using these textiles as a wearable fabric, he weaved the different embroideries on cotton and linen. We spoke to the artist and learnt more about his art. The following are the excerpts…
1. When did you first thought of using textiles on canvas? How did the thought occurred?
Before my first show, my gallerist from Kolkata, Somak Mitra, had suggested that I stay away from textile at least initially in order to keep my identity as an artist and as a fashion entrepreneur separate. This was a great suggestion and I followed what he had told me.
My second solo show was in Mumbai and I decided to start experimenting with textiles. I put up a few works during the second solo titled ‘What my mother didn’t teach me’ to which I received an overwhelming response. Since that show, I have been continuously experimenting with different techniques of hand embroidery for my work. I think it was natural for me to slowly drift toward textile since that is something I have grown up around. Initially, just to keep the identities separate, I did not showcase any of it.
2. What was the idea behind the artworks showcased at the India Art Fair 2023?
For the India Art Fair, since I was one of the focus artists, I wanted to showcase various different techniques of hand embroidery and how these techniques could be used totally differently to reflect on different things that I wanted to portray. I wanted to take a medium that has been used since generations in a certain way and give it a contemporary spin. Therefore, I used different materials that represent different energies to me and created figurative works. Some of them were 3D with fabric stuffing. I also wanted to merge different mediums and therefore, I created a sculpture which was combined with threads and embroidery to create an installation.
3. Tell us about the materials that you used in these artworks and from where did you source them?
I used a variety of different materials in all the works. The main installation consisted of a fibreglass sculpture with acrylic paint on it. It was mixed with rope which was dyed in different colours that formed the means to create the sort of ‘pulling’ effect. The textile work on the wall for the sculpture installation consisted of acrylic paint, different embroidery techniques and different fabrics. For the other textile works on the wall, different techniques, such as ari and zardosi, were used with various different materials like resham, bead, sequins, thread, stone, sticks, metal thread, etc.
4. Please explain the process of creating these artworks.
I always begin any artwork by creating a paper collage. I cut out various different elements from different magazines and started gluing them together to create different contemporary figures. This forms the blueprint for anything that I create thereafter. The collage is used to then draw the khakha - which is a tracing paper required for hand embroidery - and the khakha is pasted on the fabric to create structures. The embroidery happens then on these structures. If I want to create a sculpture, the process is very similar. I will create the figure using a paper collage and then turn them into a sculpture.
5. How challenging was it to use these materials on the canvas? Why do you think artists refrain from using them?
Initially the karigars were quite uncomfortable doing the work since this was totally different from what they were used to. One karigar mentioned how the people in his village were unwilling to do the work since they got scared (I was getting an alligator embroidered). It was interesting to see their initial resistance and discomfort but then their quick adaptation to different ideas and concepts.
Also, it is a very time consuming process and it is very expensive. Since I am trying to use all these techniques in a different manner, there is a lot of trial and error all the time.
All the karigars are not skilled in the same manner; everyone is good at certain techniques and not as good in others. The right balance of karigars has to be found.
6. There is an interplay of colours and textures in your artworks. How do you decide the
Different materials represent different energies to me. Depending on what I am trying to depict, I choose different materials and elements. For example, sequins represent extravagance, etc. since it is glittery and simple thread is more subtle. When I do my work, I am thinking about people in my life and their behaviours and perceptions. If they are extravagant or subtle or simple or anything else, I use different materials to create the figurative works, depending on what I feel. Therefore, the composition depends on what I am trying to portray.
7. What was the idea behind the sculpture piece that you showcased at the art fair?
I wanted to mix around two mediums of sculpture and textile. The idea was to create something very contemporary using age-old techniques of embroidery. The sculpture with a done up face and exaggerated features is a figure that I keep working with as it represents our times.
I wanted to create a figure/superhero/ that reflects on society now. Then the ropes are like chains pulling out of a textile which consists of another layer. This idea was a play around the perceptions we are always trying to create.
8. What did the strings in the sculpture symbolise?
The strings symbolised a connection between the different layers that we have as human beings. The different perceptions we are always creating, the different faces we put on all the time depending on circumstance and the influence of society on every human being.
9. Who has been your inspiration in art?
There are a few artists I really enjoy and follow: Hannah Hoch, Faig Ahmed, Dana Schutz, Suhasini Kejriwal, T Venkanna, Sohrab Hura, etc.
10. Now that the India Art Fair is over, what next is in the pipeline?
Nothing is planned as of now! I am going to keep experimenting with the medium for the time being. I am still settling down from all the shows so far, haha!