Artist learns from
marigolds and masters in Odisha

Artist Quishile Charan describes learning traditional dying techniques from master textile makers in the North Indian state of Odisha. Quishile's research will contribute towards her practice that focuses on indentured labour and post-colonial impacts on the Indo-Fijian community. Quishile was assisted to undertake her research in India by an Asia New Zealand Foundation arts grant.

This year I had the opportunity to travel to India to undertake a textile residency in Odisha, North India.

Woman lighting fire

Quishile travelled extensively around India's northern state of Odisha learning traditional dying processes from master textile makers

It was a busy two months with the first part of the residency travelling for 23 days across the state to meet master makers and understand the development of textiles and the process before and after the loom.

This was my first trip to India and was an important step within my practice and on a personal level.

Being Indo-Fijian, I hold an ancestral connection to India but that connection has been deeply affected by colonisation and the departure of my ancestors for indentured labour in Fiji.

During the course of the residency and through personal research, I learnt more of India’s colonisation under the Portuguese and British Empire, coming to a better understanding of the histories that lead to the development of the Indian indenture system.

I also spent time in Mumbai with artist Shivanjani Lal, learning more of the Indian art scene and visiting galleries and museums.

One of my favourite galleries was an artist run space, Clark House Initiative. The galley was a very welcoming space and encouraged engagement with political and social practices. I met many other artists there and learnt more of the Indian art scene and art history.

Clark House Initiative held an artist talk between Lal and myself where we both talked of our own practices, the use of personal narratives and the complexities of being Indo-Fijian.

Being able to have the artist talk in Indian was beneficial to me and was wonderful hearing how the audience engaged with Indo-Fijian histories and its similarities and differences to India.

My material research during the residency focused mainly on natural pigment dye, expanding off of what I already knew around Fijian and New Zealand flora.

I worked with marigolds to produce golds, yellows and greens, the green colour being a pleasant surprise.

Kumkum seeds sourced locally were dried in the sun and turned into powder to produce earthy oranges. Mango bark and leaves for cotton made a brown with red undertones. Aal bark from the banyan tree made a coffee brown with purple spots showing on the cotton that was dyed.

Pomegranate skins made a light green colour.

Over the final month of the residency, I dyed over 35 metres of silk, cotton and cotton silk blends.

Two dyed materials orange side by side

Quishile worked with marigolds to produce golds, yellows and greens

Through having this time to understand different dye processes and pigments, I have acquired new knowledge of flora I never knew could yield colour.

I've strengthened my mordanting processes and learnt traditional techniques in colour setting like wood ash left over from a fire and how cow dung can be used to bleach thread or fabric. It was an amazing experience being able to learn all these new techniques.

Following this residency, I will combine the techniques I have learnt with my practice leading into 2018 and my Master's to find better ways of making textile narratives.

Gaining more knowledge into India’s textile making has shown me how expansive the area is and I hope I get another opportunity in the future to come to India.