Shifting Ornament

February 13, 2008


Cities, streets, houses â?? how do we make them home?

Often by ornamenting them. If we look closely we may find these places are layered with meaning and memory because of their patterning.

Textile patterns have travelled between South Asia and Britain from the seventeenth century to our own day. Do these voyages change the patterns as cargoes of meaning and memory? Does their arrival subtly change the cityscape, and how? Is the layering of visual pattern and ornament around us, which is so everyday we may take it for granted, just a meaningless jumble – or does each change speak of new meanings developing, new kinds of belonging, new understandings of ‘home’?

These are some of the questions I am asking as an artist. I am based in the Geography Department at Royal Holloway, London University, where I am one of a team working on a research project entitled Fashioning Diaspora Space in partnership with the V&A.

Diasporas, great movements of people from their traditional homelands, carry their traditions of ornament with them. What happens when these visual traditions find themselves in an entirely new context – when a sari made in Mumbai is worn in a London street? Perhaps both the sari and the street are subtly changed by the encounter.

Drawing is a way of looking harder. One of my concerns is to explore drawing itself as a means to understanding which is different from writing, the traditional medium of research.

I’ll be uploading work in progress here, sharing this journey, while working towards a drawing exhibition to be held in Londonâ??s Royal Geographical Society, near the V&A, in 2009.

Sketch for a motif based on found patterns around Green Street, Newham, E17: station cast ironwork, tyre treads, and a motif from an Asian retail outlet.

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