Raisa Kabir

London, May 19, 2021

Grant Watson<Maybe we start a little bit with biography, if you’re comfortable with that?

Raisa Kabir<Definitely. So, lots of people ask me how I got into textiles. My sister is actually an artist—I’m one of four siblings. I was kind of sworn off art even though I spent most of my time at school in the art room or in the textile studio; I was hoping to do architecture. The interesting thing about growing up in Manchester is that the literal structural bones of that city are entwined with textile history. So even at school, you would go on school trips to the weaving mills and get a great sense of the impact and the speed at which all these warehouses had sprouted up, and there are buildings that are named things like India house, velvet house, silk house, and also going into the Whitworth Gallery. But it just never really occurred to me that this textile history of Manchester or where I was from had anything to do with my parents’ history. My mother, she was a social worker, but she loves to write poetry and the way she organizes her house, I really think she could have been an artist—there are just so many textiles around. And all these different folk pieces, nakshi kantha, jamdani, they had just always surrounded me in the house.

I saw an exhibition at the Whitworth Gallery in 2007 or 2008, I have to remember the name of it. I think it was called “Textile Subversions,” and there was also this other exhibition called “Cloth & Culture NOW”[1] curated by Leslie Miller. Anyway, one of these exhibitions had the textile artist Shelly Goldsmith in it, and I suddenly realized that you didn’t have to just do fashion or interior design—if you wanted to work with textiles, you could be an artist. So, despite my earlier misgivings I went to art school and did an art foundation. I specialized in textiles, and I did a lot of textile sculpture and embroidery. I had been accepted to a place in Manchester, and people were like, “do you want to be a textile designer or a textile artist? If you want to be a textile artist, there’s this amazing course in Manchester, stay there.” But I was determined to go to London. I did the textile design course at Chelsea College of Arts, which was very hard because I was an artist and everyone there was pretty much a designer. But it was great being there. And it meant that I met my queer community, and activist community. I started doing more organizing on the ground, and I just spent most of my time cultivating that and becoming politicized. During that time, we had a lecture about the East India Company when we started doing the history of textiles. And I thought to myself, “well, East India, wait a minute, and my internal map just went. . . but surely that’s Bangladesh!” And that is what is related to Manchester and the Whitworth and everything that I learned in school, that it is about the place that I’m from. And it blew my mind. And I just thought, “wow, why don’t I know this? Why has no one ever said this?” To put together the history of muslin, Dhaka, everything, all of that history. . .

I also found the catalogue of “Woven Air,”[2] an exhibition that had taken place in 1988 at the Whitechapel Gallery. It was the first time that I had seen nakshi kantha and jamdani presented in that artistic framework. Here was an exhibition being done to resituate Bengali textile history and the archives that are in the UK with the Tower Hamlets community. And that was also the year I was born. I guess that was the only thing that I could find when I was searching at university about this history. And then I just kept thinking about the correlations between the fact that this weaving was from this place, that it wasn’t named as this place, that it had kind of been erased because of the liberation wars. It was always talked about as India, or East India, and so Bangladesh became marginalized. And I was thinking about the partition of Bengal and India. And the history of jamdani was linked to this very ancient muslin cloth that doesn’t exist anymore. I don’t know if I am skipping ahead here. . .

GW< No, it’s fascinating. Please go on.

RK< We had early partitions in 1905 through the middle of Bengal, but the main partition happened in 1947.[3] The international border that was created wraps around Bangladesh and North Eastern India (Assam) and is where people were mostly impacted. And then I made the connection between that and the large numbers of Sylheti diaspora[4]—why are we here? Why is there such a massive Sylheti diaspora? It’s because of this colonial border between Assam in India and Sylhet in Bangladesh that caused people to leave their land and their livelihoods; they were pushed out. And we’re talking about an area that covers Assam and North Eastern India and Bangladesh. That is the biggest diaspora in the UK, of Bengali people from the Sylheti region. Later on, as I kept on working with this kind of research, I related that to the border—obviously the border in Punjab in partition studies is documented much more than this North-Eastern border—but there are correlations between the issue of Kashmir and Jammu, its textiles, that border, and also the huge populations of Kashmiri people in the UK. So, these are two diasporas of two centers of textile history that were commodified and appropriated for European, western markets that were hungry for paisley shawls, Kashmiri woolen shawls, and muslin or cotton. These two places that were kind of subsumed and industrialized in the north of England. After that industrialization and many hundreds of years of people wanting these textiles, they fell out fashion. And from the very places where these textile histories originated, with these direct colonial borders as a result of partition at the end of the Second World War, you have an exodus of people who were displaced (and later on the Bengali liberation war pushed people further out) who ended up in the UK, working in these cotton mills, which had been built and are derived from that first kind of interaction of industrializing handloom cotton cloth in these areas.

So, I think trying to just wrap my head around these threads and geographies and histories that kind of loop around and loop back—that has been the crux of my interrogation into the work that I make, also working with archives. From the Whitworth Gallery, or the V&A or the Harris Museum, and the John Forbes Watson volumes[5].

GW< I know them well!

RK< Yeah.

GW< They are quite beautiful, actually.

RK< They’re gorgeous books. And what I’ve been working on, at the moment, is that I want to bring these books to the diasporas in Burnley, Blackburn, and Rochdale, where there are huge concentrations of communities, mainly Kashmiri, Punjabi, and Sylheti people who are in these Pennine areas. And it’s’ a very difficult place. And the fact that you know, there’s a whole collection of books at the Harris Museum in Preston, but people aren’t equating British textile history with global history. People say, “oh, well, we need to bring South Asian textile history to these places,” and I’m like, “it’s the same history!” That’s what I’m always trying to do. To say, look, this is the same history, it’s actually all of ours, and it’s all connected. It’s not separate and it’s not here and it’s not there or it’s not other, it’s actually foundational and continuing.

I started working in Bangladesh in 2016 for the Muslin Festival[6] there, and I was very much concerned with the way that jamdani or muslin, the idea of Dhaka muslin, was being used or instrumentalized as a kind of attachment to nationhood or nation-making. It was about being kind of proud of this textile—because of the partition, jamdani exists in India, in West Bengal, and Bangladesh—and trying to claim it for one nation. And my position was that it possible to draw a distinction between a textile heritage that is intangible and it’s part of people’s bodies and culture and nakshi kantha exists on both sides of this partition. This led me to more research around textiles, nationhood, and cultural imperialism.

The history of Bangladesh is that after the 1947 partition you have West Pakistan and East Pakistan, East Pakistan being the territories that would’ve been East Bengal, with West Bengal being subsumed into India. And it was very strange to call it East Pakistan, that territory being thousands of miles from the “head office,” the center of government, which was in Pakistan—different language, different culture, different paths, or routes to Islam. Bangladesh became the part of Bengal that was mainly people from the agricultural class or people who were escaping casetism from Bengali Hindus and probably converted to Islam.

And so, we have the partition where many Hindu Bengalis went to West Bengal and Bangladesh is presumed to be an Islamic country. And we know, in contemporary ongoing genocides with the Rohingya in present-day Myanmar, that during 1947 partition Burma was part of the British Empire, but was then turned into its own country. So, we have Bangladesh that’s bordering Burma and India. The Rohingya were not subsumed into Bangladesh, even though they are a Muslim population, because that would have given it a bigger mandate than Pakistan. So, this was purposefully done to make sure that control would be only in Pakistan, not in Bangladesh, and these are very two different places. The premise of it being all united in religion, which of course is really difficult. For example, there are regions of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and historically Chittagong is a cotton growing area, hugely important during the colonial period as a port, very industrial, and further up the mountains is an area called Chittagong Hill Tracts, which had independent treaties with the British Empire. Once partition happened, those treaties were dissolved, meaning suddenly the independent tribal groups lost ownership of their land. These areas were subsumed as Bangladesh and thus controlled by Pakistan, and they were very valuable areas of land, rich agricultural land, but also very rich in terms of its disposition. The Indigenous inhabitants speak many, many, many, many different languages; as a collective group, the people call themselves Adivasi.

GW< These were the eleven tribes of the area?

RK< Well, Adivasi means Indigenous, so there are Tripura, Chakma, a lot of them are in Eastern India. So, it is this border that cuts through their land. Half are in Bangladesh and half are in India. They have their own religions, languages, textiles, traditions, and they’re very diverse, not monolithic at all. I don’t want to reduce anyone’s identities—the people who I specifically worked with are in Rangapani, and they are of Chakma[7] origin, but there are many, many, many groups, like over thirteen and maybe up to something like sixty distinct languages.

This is also in Bangladesh, but again, the partition board subsumed this part of land into Bangladesh, into Pakistani rule. Because in the 1950s what you have is a standoff between India and Pakistan. Pakistan is supported by the US, and there is a US-funded paper mill and hydroelectric plant, which meant they needed to create a dam to divert water. So they flooded all of this Indigenous land. And I’m talking thousands of miles, all of their land underwater.[8] People were literally forcibly displaced by this flooding. That’s a very long introduction.

GW< No, keep going!

RK< So, once that happens, the Chakma royal palace is under water. During this violence, which has happened since the 1950s into the 1990s, people were resisting, they were being kidnapped, killed, silenced. It is still militarized, occupied land. To this day, foreigners are not allowed to go there without a special pass. There’s a constant militarized presence, and land is being taken away and given to Bengali settlers. The mainland Bengali population are stealing land and people’s land has already been flooded to create these huge lakes, which are a tourist attraction now. These are man-made, filled lakes on what would have been agricultural land, actual, arable land.

And the way that people’s citizenship is ascribed is that people are not allowed to be Bangladeshi citizens if they don’t speak Bengali, Bangla. And this is such a repeat of what happened in the Pakistan War. So, all of this is happening under West Pakistan rule, up until about 1970. And then we have a war of independence in 1971 or a civil war between West Pakistan and East Pakistan. And we see this as the creation of Bangladesh. But to this day the creation of the nation-state of Bangladesh has been established by marginalizing these ethnic and religious minorities, still, even after the liberation. Adivasi textiles are also kind of denigrated in comparison to Bangladeshi jamdani and muslin, and the way that this is mythologized or compared is systematically done to denigrate any kind of Indigenous Adivasi textiles, culture, language, music, or art. So, I am under no illusion that my work is still oriented around European and British imperialism and colonialism, because there are ongoing violences that repeat and use these strategies or agendas that are attached to forced and displaced peoples and their textiles. That’s kind of where I’m at.

GW< And I’d be quite interested, because that’s a very comprehensive account you just gave, to hear a bit about how you research that, not only in terms of reading, but also in terms of traveling, in terms of family, what was that piece of work that you did and how did it start?

RK< So, there was the university, then there was the leaving the university. There was this seed planted with that catalogue Woven Air (1988) and there’s Sonia Ashmore’s book on muslin.[9] And then 2014, I think there was “Social Fabric” at Iniva, which is where I met Christine Checinska, and you briefly, and there was a symposium, maybe it was 2012, because I was still at university.

GW< Was it “Second Skin,” the conference Christine did at Iniva, or the one that we did for “Social Fabric”?

RK< I think it was “Social Fabric.” It must’ve been 2012, then. And someone actually showed a video of the Bangladeshi curator who had commissioned the “Woven Air” exhibition in 1988 alongside Janis Jefferies. And I remember just crying and feeling so overwhelmed with this kind of history and it just really just spurred me on, I think. So, I finished university and I did my final piece on South Asian, queer femme, South Asian voices, women’s voices and linking identity and textiles as metaphor for hidden archives and gendered archives and things that are dismissed.

After that I ended up like working with collective creativity and doing performance and just really meandering and trying lots of different things. But at this point my dream was to go to Bangladesh and to find those jamdani weavers and to find this history. And at some point, I was so determined I just booked a flight and went.

GW< Was that your first time in Bangladesh?

RK< No, I had been two other times, when I was age three and five.

GW< Was that to see your grandparents?

RK< Yeah. It was with my auntie, my mom, my sister, my grandma, my dad’s mum, and my mom’s dad, my Nana. And they were very formative times; I’ve got very vivid memories of that.

GW< And what were they? Maybe you can describe some of that.

RK< Well, I was three and five, just running around pulling plants out of the garden. I remember being on my own with my mom, because my dad didn’t come. And we would go in baby taxis, and she wrapped me in her sari. I remember there being such a military presence, but my mum, she would just pound the pavement because she was quite young back then, like forty or something. She wasn’t scared and we would just go everywhere together. I have vivid memories of my aunt’s house and my cousin’s children running around and I somehow set fire to a hat. And then my sister coming, she would have been nineteen or twenty, and we would paint and draw on the roof. And going to the mosque with my Nana (maternal grandfather). And watching him pray. Yeah, it was a very strong time.

GW< And later?

RK> I went again when I was nineteen, so that was very formative as well, and this is when I was introduced to Sonargaon as the golden city, the eighteenth-century village area, which is the original Dhaka, and the original place of textile weaving. And I’d never seen anything like that. I didn’t know that Bangladesh could be this kind of archaeological site. So that was very intense. I saw the house where my mum lived, I saw my dad’s house, all for the first time. And then in 2016, my parents came with me, but that was the first time I wasn’t going to see family, I was going to work. During that trip I met Rosemary Crill[10] and Sonia Ashmore, who had been invited to the Bengal Muslin Festival. And we went on a tour organized by the festival to visit the jamdani weavers and the place where they’re trying to regrow the cotton, where they build the looms. I then went again and interviewed these weavers with my mum and dad, and I made a small film.

But crucially, during this time, as the fashion show runner of the festival, I was introduced to the work of Tenzing Chakma, who is an Indigenous Chakma fashion designer, and his designs were to be a part of the muslin show. They’d given all these designers some muslin to make creations. And then when I met him he invited me to come visit his studio in Rangamati. We got a plane, we went to Chittagong—my aunt lives there so we went to visit her—and from there we drove to the Chittagong Hill Tracts. And everyone had always said to me, “oh, you must go to Rangamati, it’s beautiful, go to Kaptai Lake, it’s so beautiful.” And then I got there and there are these checkpoints, there’s this military presence, they are checking our passports. You’re not even allowed to go unless you have some special permit, we went without the permit, just pretending that we’re Bangladeshi nationals, rather than with British passports. I just didn’t speak. We wouldn’t have been allowed in without a special permission.

GW< This is the flooded area that you mentioned earlier?

RK< Yes, the flooded area, and there I met Tenzin and his family and visited his studio. We visited the weavers—they do backstrap weaving and the work they’re doing is amazing and incredible, but there’s also this deep sense of people living in these higher mountains because they had been forced out from their land. The original village is completely gone. And Tenzin told me about what happened. And then suddenly I realized that this is occupied, militarized land and I am meeting displaced people who had to rebuild their homes. And none of this is ever mentioned. . . ever. So that’s kind of my introduction in terms of where and how I ended up working with this. And then I came back and I started an MA in cultural geography.

GW< Was that a radicalizing moment?

RK< I think so, yeah, because I’d already been thinking that all the history of muslin is so bad and people don’t talk about that. And in Bangladesh there’s a hierarchy between Bangladeshi art and culture and the way Bangladeshis are seen in South Asian hegemony, so you already kind of feel that in the diaspora.

GW< You mean vis à vis India?

RK< In the UK and India. There is a great disdain for Bangladesh as its own independent country. And the reason India hates Bangladesh is because India is made up of all these tiny states that want their freedom in some ways. So, they have to hate on Bangladesh because some of these north-eastern states have absolutely no bearing or relationship to India.

GW< They have very active separatist movements.

RK< Exactly. And these movements are kind of linked. So, it was very shocking to me to have understood Bangladesh as this place that had gained independence to then see it so clearly enacting violence on these marginalized groups.

GW< It’s in a way what Gayatri Spivak talks about in terms of layers, these hierarchies within hierarchies and not just the one hierarchy of colonizer and colonized—within that there are many strata.

RK< Yes, and subsections. And I think when we have South Asian and Indian artists showing in the UK a lot of them probably come from very, or maybe, upper-class wealthy backgrounds in India and live in that art world where none of that politics comes through. As someone who grew up in Manchester, I’m quite middle-class. My parents came here and really built a life for us—my dad used to work in a sausage factory, you know, and later my mum became a widow and was on her own and had to do so many things, worked on sewing machines that sort of stuff. But I have that diasporic background of kind of being from here, and being Bangladeshi as well, and yet there is disdain for being Bangladeshi. There are hierarchies between people’s identities. And that I think is behind some sort of veil when people talk about South Asian art or artists. There’s a difference between being part of a diaspora, a difference between being national from Bangladesh, a difference between being from various parts of India. And the caste system and everything to do with that is another issue. But I definitely understood my privilege when I was in Bangladesh, because I can speak English very well, and I’ve had an elite education. I fully understand or understood my positionality as coming from elsewhere into Bangladesh and the ease of mobility and the fact that I can leave. I went back again two years ago, in 2019, this time kind of under the premise of my MA thesis and writing about this.

GW< Was your MA thesis specifically about this group and their textile production?

RK< Yes, there is their textile production and then there’s also specific languages, specific technologies, and the way that textiles are related to land. Just outside of Dhaka is a place called Naronganj. It’s a little industrial village where jamdani, which is the national cloth of Bangladesh, is made. Jamdani has been pitched as that, it’s been invested in as this cultural idea of what being a Bangladeshi is, and people are given land and given money for workshops and subsidies and their craft is valued and encouraged. Whereas in Rangapani, in Rangamati, it’s different. I only worked with the case study of Rangapani, but the further you go into the jungle, it gets very, very, very remote and the textiles are completely different. I did have the opportunity to meet the Chakma King and Queen, who are lovely and who are activist and who are amazing. But Rangamati, for example, has become more of a town and land is being taken away. And there, the way the craft is explained is. . . I can show you a piece.

GW< That’d be great.

RK< I’ll get it out in a second, but anyway, there are very specific patterns and jamdani uses an extra weft figuring techniques. There’s this particular weaving technique, which is present all around the globe and it usually means that the weaver can be more experimental and it’s like a kind of embroidering into the weave.

GW< I think I know it from Andean textiles.

RK< Yep. So, with backstrap weaving, you can see it all across the globe, especially Guatemalan, Mexican, and Peruvian textiles use this technique and there are lots of different variations, but it’s very slow, very labor intensive, and which motifs you create are unique to geographical areas. In 2016, I also went to Mexico to learn backstrap weaving there as well. People’s technologies slightly differ all over the world, but with backstrap weaving, you can also see it in Indonesia, China, Northeast India, and this place in Bangladesh. And it’s usually found where you have high, mountainous, or hilly areas, and people’s practice kind of stays very similar to what’s been used for thousands of years because there’s less mobility to other places to change the technology. So, there are different places in China where you can see the backstrap loom evolve into using a foot pedal and using different huddles, using a frame and different places, and to have little add-ons depending on who they’re in connection with. And then in some places the looms are like wrapped around your feet, or they stay tied to a tree or a post, and these techniques have changed very little, which is kind of amazing. And in fact, there’s no need to “update” because they kind of really do the same thing. It’s just some things make it a bit faster or less hard on the body. Again, all of this is very hard work and I’m not romanticizing it in any way. They have these incredible motifs and they have alphabets of them, of which we wanted to do an archive project, where I took photographs of all of them and of Tenzin Chakma’s own personal archive. In working with the weavers, I learned how they don’t actually feel the need to preserve these alphabets or a codex of textile languages or textile motifs and patterns, because they’re meant to be rewoven. And so, it goes into a lot of work I do around the body as the archive, that textiles are of the body.

And everything made into textiles is of the body and an archive of that trauma, if that body is of a displaced person from different lands and the key component of the power and the resistance of textiles related to displaced peoples. I do think there’s a direct link there between land and textiles and displacement and resistance. Going back to jamdani and these wonderful, amazing, Indigenous textiles, a lot of the Bangladesh state denies that these groups are Indigenous. They say that they are foreigners, that they have come from China, and there’s also a lot of racism. They deny them access to their own language. They say, you cannot teach your children this particular language, you must speak Bengali. And there’s a lot of sexual violence and abduction and terrorization of communities by military forces. It’s really quite shocking and no media, press, video cameras, and no foreigners are allowed in this area.

Again, I had to go very covertly and sign forms and things, and just say I was going on holiday. And they say that the Chakma Indigenous textiles are copying jamdani. And when I heard that, I thought wow, this is similar to what people in the UK (and in the West more generally) said about Indian embroidery, like, “oh, these pieces are so skilled and so amazing, someone from Europe must’ve told them to do this.” That kind of cultural imperialism. So these textiles don’t get sold and collected, and this history was kind of removed from Bangladeshi narratives.

GW< So, that covers a lot of your research. I have a few other questions. One has to do with the queer elements. Because you said that when you came to college, you engaged with textiles, but it was also a space for meeting a queer community. Was that the art college environment? Was it London? Was it the textile context? That politics that you just described, does it somehow intersect with queer politics? That’s several questions there. . .

RK< No, I can answer that. I think because I am queer, I’m radicalized in that way that I recognize my place and my position a lot more, because queer people throughout history have taken on the mantles of oppressed people, wherever you find a movement or kind of campaign, queer people will always have been part of that history. It just would never be mentioned before.

GW< . . .closeted.

RK< . . . closeted or purposely erased. So, before I came to art college, my partner at the time, his sister ran these cultural/political events called Mutiny. It was all about democratizing and creating a non-hierarchical space for criticality. A lot of people involved were queer, and it was my first space being able to talk about my political ideas and people listening or people getting it. And then when I got to Chelsea, none of that was present. It was very much like drawing flowers, right? The environment wasn’t really there for me, as a queer person or a brown person and a disabled person, and so I just found a home with this queer community, which included learning about imperialism, because I’ve never done an academic degree or anything like that. I learned everything from those spaces, and it wasn’t from a lecture or a tutor in postcolonialism. It was from people talking and sharing and being introduced to SOAS and ULU[11] and these movements, obviously when I was at university, there were these big student movements because we’d just had the Conservative election. And I did make my final project about queer identity and South Asian dress, working with eight queer LGBTQ South Asian people, looking at how gender and clothing in South Asian cultures can be so rigid. We were trying to find ways to express that but also how LGBTQ queer spaces at that time seemed not that welcoming to people who were South Asian or Muslim.

GW< Did you connect with the queer community in Bangladesh?

RK< Yes. I have lots of friends and activists and people who I knew from New York and London who are also back in Bangladesh. I guess queer struggle in Bangladesh is interconnected to Indigenous struggle as well.

GW< In what way?

RK< Well, I think it is illegal to be LGBTQ, punishable by death.

GW< Is it the same law, 377 of the penal code that has been repealed in India, but still exists in Bangladesh?

RK< Yeah, but also its compounded with being a Muslim country, right? So, the cultivation of a Muslim nation-state and what that means is people who are non-Muslim, Chakma, or Adivasi people, or queer people, these people are seen as lesser, or should not be given citizenship, or must live very marginalized, hidden lives. Obviously, there are queer Adivasi people as well. So, there’s a lot of crossover and resistance and support.

GW< Your queer community in Bangladesh is also cognizant of these other struggles?

RK< Oh yes, they fully support that struggle because they’re interlinked, and anyone who is on the political left in Bangladesh knows of these struggles and the colonizing of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. It is well-known in Bangladesh, but suppressed globally. There is a culture of terror in Bangladesh that makes it very unsafe for people to speak out, and to be openly LGBT.

GW< It’s interesting, because I was also thinking about textiles within the hierarchies of fine art and craft. And you position yourself in this textile art space, which also has its kind of issues around acceptance and being taken seriously within the art context.

RK< Yes. I think for quite a number of years, I thought, “well, galleries don’t want to show my work,” because the response would be like, “oh, it’s textiles.” And I thought, “where do I fit in?” But then there is this particular Venn-diagram, where there are spaces that want to show political textiles and craft in this way.

GW< This was always such a huge struggle for people coming from textile courses, wanting to make art. And what I really like is kind of the way that you seem to just bypass that with your Venn diagram.

RK< Totally. I’m performing, performing with the textiles. Textiles weren’t enough, because I’m working with all this violent history and ongoing violence. My first performance, Your threads cut me, again, and again and again was at Iniva in 2014, and I got pushed to do it and I was a bit hesitant, but then it just made sense because it became a lot about gesture, repetition, and textile labor, kind of embodying the craft worker you know, near colonial textile production happening now, industrialization in different global spheres. And I still wanted to make tapestries, but I also wanted to build looms and use my body in this way to translate that kind of labor and that history.

GW< I suppose the backstrap loom itself is performative, because you use your body to change the tension.

RK< Yes. I’ve got one here actually. It truly is a kind of technology that extends from the body. So that’s when I fused performance with textiles. I would make textiles within my performances or make looms of my body and other people’s bodies, or between my feet, and make it very visceral and corporeal. Also, anti-weaving, anti-construction, the politics of the tangle.

GW< Also like the cat’s cradle, a metaphor that Donna Haraway uses as an entanglement structure that involves two people.

RK> Completely. And there are looms that I create between two people, which means that two people have to work together to hold that tension. And the idea of doing all of this work, but then to have no surface, because think about weaving as being about surfaces and surface construction, how to be anti-surface, how to be anti-right angles. So for me, this is maybe where the queerness comes in, to queer the cloth is to be anti-structure, or anti-capitalist. When we think about capitalist structures, we think about how the woven cloth has to have these two particular types of lines and interlayers to hold a grid, and to queer that is to have the loose tangle. Always working with the tangle and the possibilities of that, so again, how to break into the structure, how can we deconstruct structures or build new structures. Or yarns that crossover to the point where you can’t really tell what that structure is, again, it generates resistance to the contained cloth and creates a kind of queer topography on top of it.


[1] The exhibition “Cloth and Culture, Now” was on view at the Whitworth Gallery, Manchester, September 17–December 14, 2008.
[2] The exhibition “Woven Air: The Muslin and Kantha Tradition of Bangladesh” was on view at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, March 4–May 1, 1988.
[3] The 1947 Partition of Bengal as part of the Partition of India and divided Bengal into two separate entities: West Bengal, belonging to India, and East Bengal, belonging to Pakistan. East Bengal was renamed East Pakistan, and later became the independent nation of Bangladesh after the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.
[4] The Sylheti diaspora is comprised of around one million members of an ethnocultural group originally from the Sylhet region of South Asia (present-day Bangladesh and India).
[5] For more information on John Forbes Watson and his publication The Textile Manufactures of India (1866) see and
[7] The Chakma, whose Indo-Aryan language has its own script, represent the largest Indigenous population of Bangladesh. Most practice Theravada Buddhism and are now spread across territories in Bangladesh, Myanmar, and India.
[8] Over 50,000 acres of the Chakma’s arable farmland was flooded and more than 100,000 people were displaced when the Karnaphuli River at Kaptai was dammed (approx. 1957–63).
[9] Sonia Ashmore, Muslin (London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 2012).
[10] Rosemary Crill is an art historian and was head curator of South Asian textiles at the Victoria & Albert Museum and senior curator of the exhibition “The Fabric of India,” V&A Museum, 2015–16. She has written and edited publications such as Textiles from India: The Global Trade (London: Seagull Books, 2006) and Chintz: Indian Textiles for the West (London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 2008).
[11] SOAS (The School of Oriental and African Studies), University of London and University of London Union (now dissolved).