A brave new world of textures
India-born, New York-based artist Anubha Sood’s work has always been informed by texture. From fresh kelp, linen, and cotton woven into sculptural forms to experiments with her own collected hair, along with bacteria and seagrasses — she treats weaving as an intuitive process, often as an investigation into the environmental impact of the textile industry on India.
Here, we speak to her about how a trip to Bellandur Lake, Bengaluru educated her about the interconnectedness of the eco-system and why her first memory of textiles take her back to Sarita and Women’s Era magazines.
You witnessed the environmental toll caused by the textile industry in your home. Where is your home?
Chandigarh, Delhi, and Bengaluru.
I have more or less lived the same number of years in all three cities.
I lived in Bengaluru from 2010 to 2018 and studied Textile Design at the Srishti School of Art and Design. Srishti was a brilliant school to attend, it’s where I first started exploring weaving with unconventional materials. There was something intimate and exciting about learning how to use a handloom. The possibilities were endless. Anything could become a weft yarn: hair, copper wire, or rubber. Strangely, my material choices at that time were very industrial - my focus was always on functionality, and now I hardly think about it as much. For my thesis project, I designed wearable sculptures made with handwoven copper wire.
After graduating, I worked as a textile consultant, sourcing sustainable production and manufacturing routes for textile retailers. A part of my job was to visit manufacturing facilities to observe the textile practices they had in place. In 2014, I frequently visited a few facilities that were located around Bellandur Lake. Bellandur Lake is infamous for being polluted with sewage and covered in toxic foam that caught on fire the year after, in 2015. It was surreal and a disorienting experience - to be driving through clouds of toxic foam every week. Everything is interconnected; all our actions contribute to the larger ecosystem, and having witnessed practices that were detrimental to the environment - had an enormous impact on my practice and thinking today.
When did you move to New York?
I moved to New York in 2018 to pursue graduate school at Parsons School of Design.
Tell us about your favorite spot in the city.
Chinatown and Queens - best grocery stores and restaurants to eat at. Also, great for people-watching. In Brooklyn, I love taking long walks to the Brooklyn Piers.
Why are textiles a compelling topic to explore for you?
I tried very hard to become a graphic designer or an industrial designer. When you hear peers discuss better job prospects, it certainly has some influence on your decision-making. I was not terrible at graphic design or making models, but for some reason, it was never fulfilling work - something always felt incomplete. It was different with textiles, weaving and exploring natural fiber felt exciting. Experimentation became such an integral part of the process, it helped me cultivate a way of thinking that was unique to me. I was okay with failing, with accidents, and with something not working out. Whether I am growing yeast bacteria into textiles or weaving traditional material – it’s always such a learning process. Material has its way of guiding the hand.
What is your first memory of a textile?
My grandmother was obsessed with knitting in a very compulsive way. She had a tradition of collaborating with us on our yearly ‘special birthday sweaters’. I am not sure if all grandmothers did this, but I was always dressed in my grandmother’s custom creations. We would spend hours going through her collection of Sarita and Women’s Era magazines looking for knitting patterns to inspire us. There was no Internet then so we would sketch intuitively and come up with some beautiful designs together. It was not only the wild colour choices or patterns but also the silhouettes that we would experiment with. I am still in complete admiration of how open-minded my grandmother is to learning. She is 90 now.
Who is another artist you think uses textiles well in their work?
Learning about Eva Hesse’s body of work was crucial to my growth. I also love Bijoy Jain’s Illumination studies, the use of silk as light is genius.
You’ve described weaving as a healing process. What do you love the most about it?
Weaving is a grounding process. It’s like plucking grass when you are sitting in a park and you don’t know what to do with your hands. You do what feels intuitive. Exploring new material and methods through this medium is also very gratifying to me. I usually start with one idea which leads to another, and I am happy to take those diversions instead of dismissing them.
The pandemic has presented many challenges. How are you coping, or have you had to make any adjustments in your process?
I was finishing my MFA thesis in 2020 when the pandemic hit, so it was quite challenging, to say the least. I had to pack up and relocate my entire studio to my tiny apartment in Brooklyn. This required a lot of adjustment and acceptance at the time, but now I feel this move has positively influenced my practice. I love having my handloom in my bedroom, and having easy access to the kitchen for natural dyeing is a blessing. There are no studio fire safety rules or guidelines to abide by. It’s also sparked some new interests in me. I have a new love for cooking, learning and reading more about kitchen practices, fermentation, and preservation processes.
What kind of textiles do you like to wear? How would you describe your style?
In New York, I mostly wear thrift or vintage clothing. I do treat myself to one designer garment or footwear once a year.
If you had to pick a look from November Noon for yourself, which one would it be? How would you wear it?
The Canopy Overlay is quite a look! I love layering clothing, so this will be perfect for all seasons. For summer I’ll pair it with other bright colours and for winter more subdued monotone palette.
Do you have a specific fiber or material you haven’t worked with and are excited to explore?
Coconut husk because it’s found naturally woven on trees, which is very unique. I tried combining it with sheets of yeast bacteria but now I am thinking of pairing it with seaweed paper. Coconut fiber is such a humbling material, it's already been explored in several Indian crafts, and I am excited to learn more about it.
For the image credits:
Portrait - Peter Salera
Bottom two photos - Carpenters Workshop Gallery, New York
All other photos - Anubha Sood / by the artist