Originally trained as a microbiologist, Monika Correa developed a love of textiles early on, fed from diverse sources. She recalls being drawn to the fabrics she saw in Mumbai street markets; collecting Indian saris; and later discovering Rya rugs on a trip to Finland. In 1962, while in the US, where her husband, the architect Charles Correa was teaching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she met the Finnish-American artist Marianne Strengell, who taught her how to weave and who also gave her the design for a loom, which Correa later used in her studio. This meeting with Strengell was significant, connecting Correa to weaving in the United States, where the medium was affirmed as a studio art linked to the Fiber Art movement, from the 1960s onwards.1
From the 1940s to the 1960s, Marianne Strengell was Head of the Weaving Department at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, perhaps the most influential centre for craft training in the United States. She was also one of a group of European émigrés that included Anni Albers, Marli Ehrman and Trude Guermonprez, graduates of the Bauhaus weaving workshop who helped bring developments in European textiles to the United States, largely through their roles as teachers. While these weavers often designed fabrics for practical application - Strengell and Ehrman, for example designed for the motor industry—many of their students including Sheila Hicks, Lenore Tawney, Ed Rossbach, Kay Sekimachi and Claire Zeisler, saw their own weaves as autonomous works within an avant-garde development of tapestry.
Taken out of the sphere of commercial production, weaving acquires a different role, and for Correa this meant integrating her practice into daily life, making it autonomous also in the sense of not being dependant on the gallery system. While Correa has shown her work in numerous solo and group exhibitions, she has also reached a wide audience through her commissions for public spaces. Placing textiles within the context of architecture has been an important outlet for artists such as Albers, Hicks, Tawney and their European counterpart Magdalena Abakanowicz, all working with fibre and cloth. Textiles are of- ten seen to constitute a 'soft' membrane within the 'hard' structure of a building, and are able to achieve a scale difficult for other media such as painting. An example of one such commission by Correa is the monumental tapestry Axis Mundi (1997–99), woven in several sections and designed to fit an elongated rectangular wall rising 14 meters high, in the entranceway of the Sarjan Plaza, Mumbai. In an earlier commission, made for the marble lobby of the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building, New York, Correa produced the more intimate group of works, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter (1987–88). This opportunity came from a conversation Correa had with the architect Philip Johnson, who was also a great supporter of Anni Albers. He had commissioned Albers to design draperies for the Rockefeller Guest House and was instrumental in realising the 1949 exhibition of Albers' work at MoMA, New York.
Given the technical nature of weaving, its development from the Bauhaus in the 1920s to the Fiber artists of the 1960s involved numerous innovations in technique, even if many of these originated with reference to ancient sources or from so-called 'world textile' traditions.2 Correa's woven works continue in this line, and in her attempts to expand woven cloth beyond the grid, she allows it forms of expression that extend beyond the basic interlacing of warp and weft.
She uses rough yarns to disrupt the smooth surface of the cloth and to create pictorial elements, and 'extra weft' threads to produce linear variations—much in the way Anni Albers employed floating wefts in her 'pictorial weaves' to make compositional lines that diverge from the weave's rectilinear structure.
A device used frequently by Correa to great effect has been to experiment with the tension of the warp and how its distortion by the weft can change the character of the weave, giving it a particular expression. She has done this principally by removing the reed, a comb-like instrument that is part of the loom, and that is used to maintain tension by spacing and separating the warp during the weaving process. Consequently, in many of Correa's works, the heavier weight of the coarse, hand-spun, woollen weft threads that she favours, distorts the finer cotton warp, making the warp bend and twist out of alignment. This produces a shift from a structured to an unstructured cloth, changing the nature of the work halfway through, as in Roots I and Roots II (1984 and 1985) where the reed's extraction coincides with a fragmentation in the work, which seems to denote the roots. In other instances, she has kept the reed in place to maintain a more structured quality throughout the piece or re-moved it from the start so that the lines are left to meander, as they do in Sun, Moon & Clouds (1987).
Correa's practice has evolved over the years so that this technique is employed to different effect. Her early works are characterised by representations of nature through simplified, often iconographic motifs using strong colours, and with titles such as Fall (1987-88) Monoon (1988) and Tree, Sun & Sky (1989). The removal of the reed in these works has been used to accentuate a pictorial element, similar to the effect created in Roots I and II.
In Backwaters of Kerala (1986), for example, where the point of the reed's removal demarcates the waterline, the unstructured area below creates an impression of the water's surface and the trees reflected in it. Later, when Correa shifts to a more abstract approach, the woven structure and the forms that can be created using this technique come into focus. A case in point is Dudhsagar Falls (2019), made for this presentation. This monochrome work features two principal elements in its composition: one is the use of threads of different tones to make a line demarcating the lighter and darker sections of the piece, and the other is the removal of the reed, allowing for folds to appear at the centre, before its replacement brings the warp and weft back to conformity. By juxtaposing works from different periods, we can observe how the shift from representation to abstraction is underpinned by the consistency of imagery from nature, as an ongoing source of inspiration in Correa's practice. Snowscape (1986) can be viewed alongside Gentle Snowfall (2016)—and despite the thirty years between their production, the works are united in their subject matter, palette and atmosphere; in one a woodland scene pared down to the leafless silhouette of winter trees, in the other an abstract composition suggesting the snow-flecked soil.
As weaving has found a growing audience in a mainstream art context, there has been greater critical attention paid to this medium, both as a contemporary phenomenon and also as a strand in modernism to be considered from a historical point of view, alongside architecture or painting. Noticeable within the range of contemporary and historical weaving practices, is how the constituent element of this medium, the crossing of warp and weft—most simply expressed in 'plain weave' where the two intersect at right angles—has been both a ground for experimentation, and a point of reference and continuity. Monika Correa's practice is an interesting case in point—in works made across six decades, we can see how she uses a concise set of responses to the weaving process, sticking closely to its basic premise while simultaneously mining it for its aesthetic potential.
1 A source of writing about the Fiber Art movement is the textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen, who was a student of Marianne Strengell and also a friend of Monika Correa. See Constantine, Mildred and Lenor Larsen, Jack, Beyond Craft: the Art Fabric, Kodensha International Ltd., Tokyo, 1986
2 On Weaving by Anni Albers, provides a compendium of this kind featuring weaving techniques from different periods and locations. See Albers, Anni, On Weaving, The Joseph and Anni Albers Foundation and Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2017
University of NonDualism
A new project for Frieze LIVE by Shezad Dawood
We are delighted to announce Shezad Dawood's participation in this year's edition of Frieze LIVE curated by Diana Campbell Betancourt with a newly commissioned multi-layered performance work, made possible with the generous support of The Bagri Foundation.
Developed through a series of ongoing conversations and a shared fascination with architectural modernism in South Asia between curator Campbell Betancourt and artist Shezad Dawood, Dawood has been invited to unveil some of these key ideas at Frieze this year.
University of NonDualism is a series of collaborations built around a 'stage set' conceived by Dawood which takes its starting point from the work of Muzharul Islam, a modernist architect, urban planner, educator and activist hailing from Bangladesh (1923–2012). Considered the Grand Master of regional modernism in South Asia, Islam's style and influence dominated Bangladesh's architectural scene in the 1960s and 70s. Islam was instrumental in bringing major US architects such as Louis Kahn, Richard Neutra, Stanley Tigerman, Paul Rudolph and Robert Boughey to work in Dhaka.
Dawood is particularly interested in the idea of advaita, or non-binary thinking, and how Islam embodies this in his architecture and writings, neither opposing the modern to the vernacular, nor the rural to the urban, but instead looking for ways to integrate these modes within his buildings.
Referencing Islam's legacy and his approach to non-dualism, the project enacts a series of characteristic dynamic collaborations with fashion designer Priya Ahluwalia (Ahluwalia Studio), electronic music producer patten and choreographer Adrienne Hart (Neon Dance). Dawood creates a synergy between these artists' cross-disciplinary approaches akin to Islam who regularly collaborated with artists, poets and singers.
Drawing on the startlingly futuristic geometry of Islam's drawings, Dawood's adaptable 'stage set' functions somewhere between architecture and tapestry. Dawood has been developing a notion of 'paintings without painting', that are created through the collaging and sewing of different textile elements. These works also function as hangings and room dividers into which a slipstream of dancers activate the space dressed in androgynous apparel developed with Ahluwalia Studio to reflect where the body and the fabric become architecture. Their clothing becomes an extension of the architectural and fabric elements of the setting—in such a way that specific lines and geometry continue across the dancers and ripple as they move and contort within the space. A new score by patten is being commissioned especially for the performance and will layer sounds examining the influence of Bengali polymath Rabindranath Tagore on Muzharul Islam, but also on the later more spiritual work of Alice Coltrane.
University of NonDualism will be Dawood's fourth body of work looking at South Asian Modernism, an interest that began with his 2010 project Cities of the Future that explored the relationship between Corbusier and Tantra in the development of the planned city of Chandigarh. And further projects relating to Antonin and Noémi Raymond's work in Pondicherry and Richard Neutra's proposed embassy in Karachi.This collective line of inquiry looks at specific fault lines between the modern, the non-aligned movement and the Cold War across South Asia after Partition, and has been exhibited amongst others at the Gwangju and Sharjah Biennales.
University of NonDualism will travel to Dhaka Art Summit in Bangladesh in 2020 working with local classical dancers and beyond in an exhibition curated by Diana Campbell Betancourt with Sean Anderson (Associate Curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at MoMA, NewYork) and Nurur Khan (Muzharul Islam Archives) opening on February 7, 2020.
'The sun and the rain, the play of shade and shadow and ventilation—these were the points to work on. While arriving at my solutions, my intention was not to take direct reference from tradition—rather it was more vital to allow a modernist logic work its own way. Decoration was one thing to be avoided—and the theme was to keep the materials own character, make intelligent use of geometry, proportion and achieve overall simple efficiency. While keeping in tune with the contemporary aesthetic trends of the world, the goal was also to stay faithful to the country's culture and climate.'
—Muzharul Islam, quoted in Muzharul Islam—Selected Drawings, Nurur Rahman Khan, Published by Sthapattya O Nirman, Bangladesh, 2010
Opening Days & Hours
2 October (Invitation only)
3 October: 12pm-8pm
Thursday Private View
3 October: 5pm-8pm
Friday 4 - Saturday 5 October
Sunday 6 October