Gopika Nath

by Navneet Mendiratta
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A textile artist who embroiders and writes, Gopika Nath threads her syllables into poetry, creative non-fiction and the odd art review. Her stitch journal www.gopikanathstitchjournal.blogspot.comlends a whole new dimension to the art of embroidery, augmented by her research and writing about different embroideries of the world. A Fulbright Scholar, alumnus of Central St. Martins School of Art and Design [UK], Gopika has recently left the chaos of Gurgaon to live and work in Goa. Excerpts from an interview with her:
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You wear several hats  — that of an textile artist, a writer and a healer — which is your favourite most?
I started out as a textile designer and then got into writing about design. At that point, it was limited to fashion design and I discovered that I liked going deep into the philosophy of design. I gave up writing about fashion when I realised that I wasn’t suited to it — I wasn’t interested in style and buttons et al, I wanted to do deeper. Gradually, I explored writing about art, craft, textiles – and then poetry happened.
It has all been a kind of evolution that is linked to my own evolution as a human being, finding expression through different facets of life that I participated in. In that sense, I cannot say that anyone is my favourite. All I know is that they all feed different facets of my soul at different times and together form an intergral part of my expression.
Healing, I discovered quite by chance — that I had the capacity to intend something with compassion and it helped others. I learned Reiki and other formal systems but have made an amalgam of ideas adding to the natural inclination. While healing is not overtly linked to my artistic or professional practice, it is informed and aided by all that I do and I like to be able to help those who seek my help in this regard.
Having said that, I must add that for the last one year, I haven’t done any active embroidery work and haven’t missed it — precisely because I haven’t had the scope to begin new work! Sometimes, I yearn to pick up needle and thread and work but it’s been a very hectic and unusual year which hasn’t allowed for that kind of reflection.
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An alumnus of The Central School of Art and Design, London, and recipient of the Fulbright Fellowship, how do you describe your bond with the textiles? 
When I was in school, I opted for the sciences — somewhere because I wanted to be seen as intelligent and becoming a doctor was the choice that governed this. My siblings always stood 1st and 2nd in class and the best I managed was to come 4th — that wasn’t even noted! However, by class X, I was deeply into painting and somewhere that changed and I found myself standing up in class XI when each of us was asked what we wanted to do after school — and blurting out that I wanted to study textile design. I didn’t have anyone to influence me and neither did I really know much about this subject. And since then, whenever I have wanted to deviate from the path of textiles, life has intervened to ensure that I don’t. It was at Central that I really formed the bond that sustains because I became involved with the making of textiles and it is the processes that have charmed me over the years.
I specialised in woven textiles and for the longest time had a table loom in my studio but when I went for my Fulbright stint — I had started doing embroidery which has become a passion.
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Please share with us the projects you have been associated with?
I have done a lot of different projects which include designing the uniforms and carpets at the Oberoi Hotel in Delhi, working with fashion designers like Rohit Bal, Rina Dhaka, Ashish Soni and Gitanjali Kashyap, among others. I have also done work with Ravissant, Shyam Ahuja and Fabindia and other retail stores like Heritage, Roop Saress and L’Affaire. Working with government agencies through the ministry of textiles, I have done craft development and revival projects in Bastar, Andhra Pradesh and Kashmir.
Today, I work primarily as a textile artist. And, I continue with education – which began with teaching at IIT and then NIFT [for two decades as a guest faculty] to teaching children and conducting workshops on embroidery. I also teach courses (one on one) through Skype that are custom designed incorporating creativity and healing techniques, based on the personal requirements of each student.
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You have been closely associated with several conservation projects — please tell us more about them… and how we need to undertake more serious projects to preserve our rich textile heritage.
In 1996-97, I was invited by the ministry of textiles to work on a project to revive the dying art of Bastar. I recollect being so moved by the conditions that they worked in that it took me about 6 months to figure out what I could do to actually make a contribution in this region – keeping alive the basic textile vocabulary and creating products that had global appeal. It was a very challenging project, but the government machinery has a way of putting things forward in a way that this and the other 3-5 projects that I have been involved with, never really benefitted the craftsman.
My engagement with them, whether in Kashmir or Andhra or Bastar, led me to understand that there was a huge disconnect between the craftsman and the market they had to now cater to  — being a designer without a business to support the sales of my designs and seeing that the government resources were not adequate to do this, I stopped doing these projects and decided that if I could make any contribution towards the understanding of crafts and the ideals and philosophy that have fuelled its success in the past — I could do so by becoming a craftsperson myself and also writing about it.
On my Fulbright Fellowship in 2000, I met a lot of contemporary crafts-people like myself and realised that the disconnect was as much in education as it was in being physically removed from the rest of the world, that impeded the progress of the crafts people in India. Today a lot of young designers have fashion houses that support the crafts but I still feel that they are more like skilled labour than artisans. Patronage was an important facet of the kind of fabrics that India produced but it is my understanding that given the kind of labour involved, it cannot be undertaken for bread alone and that most crafts communities are relatively unaware of the larger implications of working with the hand and what it is that drives them to it. I hope to help shed light on what makes hand crafting so integral to the well being of human society towards creating greater value and understanding of this for the customer/patron and also for the makers themselves.
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As a writer, what are the kind of stories that appeal to you? 
I love poetry and non-fiction — particularly creative non-fiction — personal essays where the writers explore life — their lives with a creatively honest lens. I stopped reading fiction about a decade ago as I became more and more interested in real people and how they lived their lives and wrote about it. Brenda Miller and Philip Lopate are two of my favourite writers of this genre.
Going by your blog and your latest exhibit, tea is your favourite muse. Please share your connect and stories…
It probably all started with that time when we were living in Calcutta and my mother started drinking an exotic sounded tea called Golden Orange Pekoe. I don’t recall drinking tea until I was much older and not quite sure when I did have my first cup but as a student in London, my hostel room was stocked with quite a few different types of tea — tea bags and gradually tea grew upon me and I still have a stock of a variety of teas in my kitchen from Darjeeling, Assam, Nilgiri and Japanese green tea, to Earl Grey, hand-rolled green leaf tea and more. I like the more languid pace of brewing leaf tea but I also don’t mind making tea from a tea-bag. I can drink any kind of tea — even the heavily brewed chai at the street chaiwallah’s stall.
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While working with the idea of chai, I found a whole world in this subject and my blog www.garammasalachai.blogspot.com which has been running for over 5 years, now carries many musings over a cup of tea and much more — because for me the condiments that go into masala chai are evocative of the elements that go into making us who we are — adding flavour to our personalities
 

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