Simranpreet Anand is an artist, curator, and cultural worker creating and working on the unceded territories of the Kwantlen, Katzie, and Semiahmoo peoples (Surrey). She holds a BFA Honours in Visual Arts along with a second major in Psychology from the University of British Columbia.
Simranpreet has been stitching a worn antique Phulkari that was cut into pillowcases and gifted by a family member. The intervention takes place with white silk thread that has dual connotations of mourning and the chand bagh (moon garden) Phulkari that would be gifted matrilineally on auspicious occasions. She will be continuing to embroider this work throughout the run of AGGV’s Adorned exhibition:
This work engages discourse around culturally specific objects and how they are classified as fine art or craft objects in Western art spaces based on opaque and often arbitrary criteria. Phulkari, a rural Punjabi women’s cotton and silk textile, woven and embroidered by hand, was deemed fine art by British colonizers in India and found its way into art spaces and museums. The north Indian Dhurrie, a naturally dyed, flat-woven rug, does not receive the same recognition. Simranpreet approaches objects like these in her art practice for their cultural significance and significations as much as for their technical intricacies and embedded histories of feminine labour. Each so-called craft practice is a medium that carries its own intimacies and types of embodied knowledge. Her work questions these dichotomies of art and craft, drawing from the histories of Punjabi womxn’s practices, including Phulkari, Dhurrie, Boliyaan (oral folk traditions), and Giddha (folk dance traditions).
Her practice is informed by familial and community histories, often engaging materials and concepts drawn from Punjab and the Punjabi diaspora — peoples whose narratives have been disrupted by colonialism and forced migration. The reclamation of cultural practice in her work confronts colonial theft, cultural propaganda, and forces of global capitalism.
The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria is located on the traditional territory of the lək̓ʷəŋən speaking peoples, today known as the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations. We extend our gratitude and appreciation for the opportunity to live and work on this territory.
Videography and editing by Marina DiMaio.Simranpreet Anand is an artist, curator, and cultural worker creating and working on the unceded territories of the Kwantlen, Katzie, and Semiahmoo peoples (Surrey). She holds a BFA Honours in Visual Arts along with a second major in Psychology from the University of British Columbia. …
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Simranpreet: Well, so normally a Phulkari is not embroidered on an embroidery hoop,
but because this is an antique Phulkari,
it was woven so long ago that the
and the weft of the fabric has sort of bonded together over time.
And so you sort of need a hoop in order tp hold it in place.
But usually when you weave fabric,
if you’ve just spun the thread and stuff, it’s a lot
crisper, the fabric hasn’t softened over time.
So I’m using an embroidery hoop to embroider this today.
Usually Phulkari is much larger than this. It’s about 3.5 ft by 8 ft.
And this is a Phulkari that was
cut up into cushion covers and then gifted to me
So you can tell like from the edges being cut and
even the hard crease that sort of won’t go away.
But also how the embroidery stayed intact in the edges of the
pillow case that were, I would imagine, you know, folded in.
I was really interested in how it’s worn away over time
because the silk floss, which I’m using to embroider it, is unspun
and you can see
these pieces of silk and how they
start to fray over time. I might have to cut some of this off.
And because of the history of Phulkari
it’s very hard to learn it from someone.
Phulkari is from Punjab, which is a state in modern day India.
But the British colonized India and when they left in 1947,
part of what happened is that state of Punjab got split into two
and they drew an arbitrary line across the land
and everyone on this side of the line had to
go to Pakistan and everyone on this side was India.
So if you’re Muslim you went to Pakistan,
and if you’re anything else you went to India.
And so a lot of people
were displaced because of it and Phulkari
is something that is really tied to the land
because people would grow their cotton and
grow their dyes and it was a very sort of home based practice.
And so the practice kind of stopped overnight during partition.
So you’ll find a lot of antique Phulkaris
that you don’t really know the provenance of
because those families had to leave all of their belongings behind.
And so now people will sort of find them and collect them
and sell them,
which I’m imagining is where this Phulkari came from.
So they would be passed down matrilineally,
but I don’t have any Phulkaris that were passed down to me,
because I think they were all lost during the partition.
My partner, his great grandmother, wove and embroidered two Phulkaris
that we have now, but yeah, I’ve been really interested in this practice and learning this practice.
And so one of the things about embroidering it
is that when you look at the back,
all you see are these dots.
And that’s because silk has been and is very expensive.
And the idea is for the silk
to remain on the front side of the embridery.
So you can see this part
that’s white that I’ve embroidered and the back side of it,
and that I have these very messy dots of embroidery,
but I’m really trying to count the stitches
and make these geometric patterns, but also learn from whoever
the woman was that embroidered this in the past.
For me, it’s really learning Phulkari through the textile itself
because it’s really hard for that knowledge
to be passed down now, especially through the multiple migrations
of like Western Punjab to East Punjab.
And then my family coming to Turtle Island and then me being here.
So it’s kind of learning from the material that you have at hand.
And so this practice is tied to that. And so
my intervention is all of the white embroidery, which
is sort of ivory color, and you can see the floss that I’m using.
So this piece would be called a Panchrangi Bagh.
And panch is related to five, rangi is colors.
So it was a Phulkari that was five colors and Bagh means garden.
So usually a Phulkari that is fully covered in embroidery is a Bagh, and
Baghs are usually quite auspicious
and there is a particular Bagh called the Chand Bagh, and Chand means moon and garden.
And so I’m interested in the Chand Bagh
and how that would be like a very auspicious Phulkari
that would be given at a wedding or a birth
and the sort of celebratory aspect of it.
But then also visually like the sort of sorrow
or mourning of white within South Asian cultures.
and how that becomes a part of the textile. And there
would have maybe been multiple people embroidering it
because it would
it would be a very social practice
and this is why I’m interested in working and embroidering
with other people rather than just sitting by myself.
But even when I’m embroidering it,
I can see the ways in which like on the back of the textile,
the ways in which the stitch sort of
changes in different parts of the textile.
And you can imagine that were different people working on it.
So you can see this seam down here.
So what would happen is that because people
were weaving these at home, they would have a very small loom
and the panels are usually about this wide
and there are three panels
on a typical Phulkari.
And so you can see that this panel was woven to this width
and then attached to another panel
and so there’s so much planning that would go into it
because on the front it’s
you don’t see, like there’s no interruption
in the actual pattern of the embroidery usually.
And if there is, it’s all so planned out.
So there’s a lot of sort of meticulous planning
that went into the making of the textile
from just the weaving and counting, of the warp and the weft,
and then making these very geometric patterns.
And this particular pattern is sometimes called
a barfi pattern, and barfi is like a
Punjabi sweet and it’s usually cut in these diamond shapes.
And so even though it’s like very geometric and sort of abstract,
they’re these things that would go from daily life
into the patterning of the Phulkari.
And so not all Phulkaris are these geometric patterns.
There are a lot of different designs
if you look through the sort of different styles
of Phulkari and they would be related to the families
or the women who are making the textiles.
So there are some that are a little bit more figurative.
They’ll have illustrations of people on them or jewelry.
Later on into the colonial period,
you would see people put trains on Phulkaris.
So it would be
these wishes that people are having for their children
or grandchildren to travel or to have jewelry,
so they’re woven or embroidered into the textile itself.
But this pattern of Phulkari is very common to the place
in West Punjab, which is now Pakistan that my family’s from.
So I’m also interested in this particular textile for that reason.
Jaimie: So would you say that these are regional too? Can you tell the region?
Simranpreet: Yeah, so you can kind of tell the region.
It takes a lot of research to know where something’s from, especially because people don’t really make them in this way anymore.
You get a lot of machine made Phulkaris nowadays,
because Phulkaris are still important in rituals.
So even if people don’t have these like really meticulous,
handmade textiles, you still have the sort of emblems of the Phulkari
that are part of Punjabi culture.
Yeah, so the different styles are attributed to different regions,
but also sometimes
because Phulkari is also a practice that’s not Hindu,
Sikh or Islam it would be sort of just related to the family.
You get sort of some differences based on
maybe what the perceived religious background of makers would be
because they would add things
that are emblematic of their faith based practice into the Phulkari.
But it’s also a very interesting practice to me in the sense that it
it crossed those boundaries of faith and that women of all faiths… and with the sort of current
political climate of India, it’s changed a lot more for religions
to be or spiritual practices to be very discreet.
But people were a lot more mix and intermingled at the time.
And current politics have really played into it.
And this idea of, you know, like the separation of Pakistan
and India and one being like a Muslim state and one being a,
I’m forgetting the word,
but it’s supposed to be a multitude of different religions,
but it’s not really with the rise of right wing movements
and so it’s changed
a lot this also having discrete religious practices
and things like Phulkari
that broke those boundaries are also not as prevalent.
So my family has a Sikh background and some of my other work,
so I have this work
that I’ve been making that I’m hoping to have a series of,
but I took this photo in my partner’s grandparents house
and it has these two images of the Sikh Gurus. And
I’m really interested in these portraits
because you see them in so many diasporic homes.
So even if you go to like South Hall or Brampton or Surrey,
like all of these places that have like very dense Punjabi
populations, you’ll see these portraits, like across the world.
And so I’m really interested in how this particular image
has circulated, and it’s because this sort of governing body of Sikhs
that also has these relations with colonial rule
and religions having to be discreet.
And I also don’t think of Sikhism as like an ism
a very colonial way of…
And for me, it’s much more of a spiritual practice
than a quote unquote religion because that’s also a term
that, you know, the British introduced to us.
And so you see those
portraits that were commissioned by the governing body
being like the first photo realistic painting of the gurus,
and it’s also,
you know, codifying what a Sikh should look like
and that’s in a way making Sikhs more discreet
from Hindus or Muslims, and really creating Sikh identity
that then perpetuates throughout households.
And so with this photo project that I’m doing, I’m interested in
like how those portraits are situated within households,
but then also like what that intimate place looks like
and what are the other sort of things
that inhabit these spaces and how do they change or not change
when you go from house to house.
But definitely it’s become much more of a
you know, you belong to this thing
and this is like your space and it becomes a lot more discreet.
And I mean, you can also draw that back
to the British sort of divide and conquer. So, yeah.
Jaimie: So have you found while you’re doing the embroidery
as you practice more and more,
have you gotten better, I guess?
Simranpreet: Not yet, because it’s so well done on the back,
it’s really hard to read where they started and finished,
and also because it’s not an entire textile
and it’s only a piece. And I think once I’m done this work,
I want to… I actually found a Phulkari that is incomplete,
like a full Phulkari that’s incomplete. So I’m interested in looking at that and seeing where
maybe they started and learning through that textile in that way
and then hopefully completing it in some way
because that’s like a real collaboration between this person
that’s unknown and myself. But
it’s harder in these
pieces that have like really random parts that are missing
because you don’t follow the thread all the way through.
And it’s a lot more sort of — I start and then finish, start
and then finish. And you can sort of see that my embroidery
is a lot looser there because you can’t get it as taut versus
these bigger patches that are missing
it’s a lot easier to follow the thread all the way through
and then reverse it back.
So you can tell that the parts that are interspersed
with the previous embroidery
are a little bit looser, and that’s because there are all these smaller
pieces of thread rather than like a really long piece of thread
that’s like following through and back and through and back.
But I don’t know if I’m better at it yet.
And also Silk is such an interesting medium
to work with because it’s so fragile
and slippery compared to a cotton embroidery floss.
So it behaves very different
and I think more than like getting better at it
I’m starting to learn the material
a little bit better and how it behaves
which is really interesting, like how different materials…
And you really get a sense of
where these materials come from and their
like haptic qualities.
But yeah, I also want to over time, it’s really
at least how I’m thinking about it right now,
like a lifelong practice of you know, learning how to
spin the cotton and make it into thread and then weave it.
So I know how to weave and I’ve woven fabric,
but I’m hoping to embroider a full Phulkari, but it’s just so time
consuming, and I think it’s okay for it to be a slow practice,
because like the forces of labor and capital extraction,
make you want to make things fast and like sell things.
And for me, it’s more of just like, make it and make it slowly.
And then also too, not necessarily like… I think if I ever sold the work, it would be when it’s complete.
But also to someone who understood the weight of the labor and the labor of love that goes into making something like this.
Jaimie: And the labor to understand
and to learn the process and the material.
I see this almost like a document
that you’re reading.
Simranpreet: Yeah, it very much is because you really learn a lot
from the back of the embroidery, but you have to look at it
so closely in order to learn from it
because every stitch is so meticulous and
you read it like it’s a different language.
It’s a visual language, but it is a language.
And I’ve really wanted to find people who are elders
in our community who could teach me, but it’s like
people have stopped making Phulkari for so long
that a lot of the women who ever made one are, you know,
in their eighties and nineties and it’s not possible for them to do
this kind of detailed work or teach this sort of detailed work.
And there are other artists who are really interested in Phulkari.
Jagdeep Raina is one of them.
So I think there are a lot of us who are from this region ancestrally that are artists that are really thinking about Phulkari and
its history and its relationship to artistic practice.
So it’s been also nice to be a part of,
you know, an artistic community.
But that also has taken so long, because the arts are
something that our community has sort of lost
its love for over time and
even becoming an artist is like such a big deal.
Like there are so few Punjabi artists,
not even just in Canada, but in the world.
And so you know, finding other people who are part of that community both artistically and culturally is such a big
important thing as an artist to me
because it’s such a small community and
a lot of us are also displaced from that context
of Punjab and our families aren’t there anymore
for a variety of different reasons.
And so it’s also like traveling the world
to find that connection, which is a very
difficult thing, but also a beautiful thing at times.
Jaimie: Finding those networks and connections to
cultural resurgence in a way through practice
and yeah, learning together,
that’s so beautifully said. And across the board I think also that’s happening in so many different nations
and form and material, and it’s just incredible to see.
Simranpreet: Yeah, and I think these are, you know, especially at this point of
the world that we’re in, with this kind of global
climate catastrophe that we’re going through,
it’s really important to think back to these more sustainable ways
of living and thinking and working.
And these practices are so tied to those things,
like a really deep connection to the land and understanding of land.
And it’s also like, you know, really hard for me to say that
as someone who’s a settler on this land,
because it’s like in one way I’m disconnected from the land
that I’m from, but I’m also a settler
who’s in some ways contributing to the extraction
from the communities that are from here.
And it’s like really important for me as a person
and as an artist to understand those complexities
and to be aware of them and to know my place. But
I think that is a kind of continual
learning that needs to happen, not just from me, but from everyone.
Jaimie: And learning I think, and building relationships,
in diverse communities are so important.
And that’s how that knowledge transfer happens. Like it
like these exhibitions, artists are talking and communities start happening outside their own communities.
And I think that’s so important to share that knowledge.
Simranpreet: It’s interesting, so I’ve done…
Like I had a major exhibition
that was at The Reach, and so with that exhibition
I did a lot of Punjabi media. So like Punjabi radio and Punjabi TV.
And it was interesting
because one of the things that they would ask me sort of about
what do I want to say to the community?
And one of the things I really like tried to
express was that we need to go
see art. And not just like Punjabi artists,
but also Indigenous artists and Black artists and other artists,
and really understand what’s happening in other communities
because art is such a conduit for those knowledges.
And I think that’s also like making art more important within our community.
Jaimie: It’s so true, with learning through arts, and different textures of knowledge too,
because not everything can be read or understood by text or talking heads, but through materials, and then connecting people and making those relationships.
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