Ranjith Raman prepares the surface of his cotton fabrics covering them from edge to edge with the running stitch in a single colour – much like one would prime a canvas. Engrossing himself in the time-consuming process of embroidering he begins these works with an instinctual idea of what he wants to create. Stitches, like brushstrokes, veer off in different directions, creating texture. One becomes aware of the power of line. Loose strands, exposed knots, superimposed appliqué and layers of cloth are some of the complex techniques used in these panels. As light falls on fibers their dynamic tonal qualities add another dimension to the imagery. Neat stitches and the untidy reverse-side of hand embroidering are used equally towards the goal of achieving the visual in his mind.
Ranjith’s work falls within the larger genre of fiber arts which relate to a vast scope of contemporary concerns. Lately there has been an upsurge in the use and interest in textile and embroidery in contemporary art practice across continents. Bold, controversial and cutting edge work with this age-old medium has relocated the boundaries of art and craft. One of the early uses of textiles in fine art can be traced to Bauhaus abstract textile artist Anni Albers. The Bauhaus school of thought challenged the hierarchies of mediums, disciplines and the arts and encouraged interdisciplinary experiments. For Ranjith the appeal of this medium began when as a child he watched his sister embroider using an array of techniques to create patterns and designs. After his formal education in Fine Arts in Kerala, he moved to Ahmedabad where he lived for six years. His early work was conventional – painting with acrylic on canvas – but his childhood fascination came back to him in this city with its culture and celebration of textile and colour. One can imagine how the rich collection of historically important pieces at The Calico Museum of Textiles would have become part of his visual vocabulary.
Ranjith’s work faces up to the challenge of capturing intangible, evanescent concepts with a physical, three dimensional medium. Fibers and fabric are the stuff of his voice and visual language. Ranjith doesn’t subscribe to the medium’s prevalent associated meanings suggestive of gender politics, violence, pain or fragility. For him it’s not about conceptualizing or contextualizing historic traditions of textiles and embroidering either. The process of making art is part of his quest and not an agenda.