While my Instagram scrolling sessions either act as a lullaby right before going off to bed or comic relief between work, sometimes the blackhole that it is throws up a gem that almost makes up for all the other toxic shit that comes with the territory. Last week, this came to me in the form of intricate, gorgeous embroidered reading portraits, painstakingly made by Bengaluru-based Anuradha Bhaumick.
Looking at solitary women splayed out on a couch, on a favourite armchair, in the bath, in a garden in full bloom—all reading and often with stacked bookshelves, foliage or framed art in their background—was just the reminder I needed to look for beauty in the mundane as the pandemic stretches on.
“I learnt embroidery when I was five and I've been doing this ever since,” says the 29-year-old “bookish embroidery artist”, as she calls herself. “It started with me being down with chickenpox and my mother wanting to keep me indoors. So she gave me a handkerchief and taught me the running stitch and ‘Lazy Daisy’ [often used to give petal designs and small floral patterns]. She not only kept me indoors but also gave me my ikigai [a Japanese term that roughly translated to ‘a reason for being’].”
Bhaumick started her Instagram page as a way to motivate herself to embroider more in November 2019. But in February this year, she left her day job as a denim designer and decided to pursue embroidery full-time. While our solitary reading moments might not seem much to write home about, Bhaumick’s vibrant works—which take a minimum of five days to make—are a reminder of the special place they hold in the lives of many. “The whole point of my embroidery is to elevate the mundane with the monotony itself,” she says.
And many of these moments are plucked from real-life scenarios that get converted to custom works for clients. So while a certain Shaktakshi’s blue-tinged fringed bob makes it to a piece, a certain Indu’s ginger cat’s tail makes an appearance as the feline wanders off supposedly in search of cheese puff dust. Elsewhere, native architecture of the ancestral home the client has lived in, also makes an appearance. Then there’s a self-portrait of sorts in the form of a blue-robed girl with her hair tied in a bun sitting in a blooming park. “Out of all the things I want to do after the lockdown is lifted, going to Cubbon Park is second after hugging my parents,” Bhaumick writes on this post putting out her post-pandemic dream. “Parks are a safe haven for me and I have been reliant on their healing properties since I was a kid.”
It’s not all books though. A couple very obviously in love and holding hands, a raised fist to support the Black Lives Matter movement, and powerful quotes make appearances here and there too—all of it on discarded or out-of-use fabric. “I use a lot of colourful fabrics for my art and all of these are from my mom’s clothes,” she says. “All her clothes need to be altered because of her height so I’ve been collecting these fabrics since a decade now. I don’t use anything new except the muslin canvas.”
Around the world, embroidery is seeing a resurgence that is lifting the art form from the “women’s craft” world it was once relegated to. Subverting this very backdrop it has been placed against if not compared to your granny’s pastime, embroidery is being reinvented by a crop of cool, young designers like Bhaumick.
Bhaumick’s art has been featured by various virtual exhibitions but it took flight in April this year when actor Emma Roberts’ book club, Belletrist, featured her work.
The price for the customised pieces ranges from Rs 7,000 to Rs 18,000 ($100-$250), and orders can be placed via her Etsy shop link.
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