• ‘Nakshi Shaaj’: Contemporizing the Traditional Craftsmanship of the Sylheti Community | Gurugram, India

    Indian artist Antara Dey received EAS seed support this year for 'Nakshi Shaaj’. In this project, Antara explores identity and subconscious memory, as she works to create a contemporary archive of Sylheti art and culture through her paintings. We are pleased to present her description of this ambitious ongoing project from its conception to the first stages of realization.

    'Pati ek' | Acrylic and Fuji ink on unstretched canvas | 12 x 24 inches


    Over the past couple of years, I have been extensively researching the culture, folklore, myth, superstitions, and ways of my community, Sylheti. Sylhet is a city in eastern Bangladesh, on the Surma River. I was born and bred in India after my great grandparents migrated to Shillong, a city in the North-East of India.  Although my family and our extended relatives all spoke the language they brought with them from Sylhet (Sylheti or Silōti), things got diluted over the decades. We adapted to local culture, food habits, and phonetics, but deep down every member of my family wanted to be recognized as hardcore Sylheti.

    'Silōti Naksha' | Acrylic and Fuji ink on unstretched canvas | 20 x 24 inches

    As my research deepened, I realised that I had no idea about some of the most beautiful patterns, iconographies, themes and subject matter of Sylheti art, that is substantially used in the making of Sylheti nakshi pati or Shital pati. These are intricately patterned, handmade and woven mats that tell stories of folks from the community. Growing up, we had one such pati, but it didn’t catch my eye until a few months ago, while visiting home. It took me a while to realize that I have always been making such patterns in my paintings and how similar they looked to the ones in the pati. Was it subconscious memory? Was it coincidence? Or was it a combination of both? 

    'Pati teen' | Acrylic and Fuji ink on unstretched canva | 5 x 9 inches

    I dove straight away into doing more pattern-research.  This time I came across some hard-hitting news–none of my Sylheti friends, cousins or people my age knew about the nakshi pati or its relevance.  What is worse, was their indifference, or lack of interest, when I told them about it. I hated that! I was hurting!

    'Xhakra' | Acrylic and Fuji ink on unstretched canvas | 20 x 22 inches

    Taking the reins in my own hands to make these storytelling patterns more common to my peers, I started this series. All the paintings in the series are true replications of the nakshi or patterns found on the mats. I plan on continuing this series and making it even more extensive. From the rarest to the most frequent and the oldest to the newest, I plan to make a visual archive of nakshi presented in a form that will not hurt sentiments, but will contemporize the folklore. 

    'Silōti Naksha II' Diptych | Acrylic and Fuji ink on unstretched canvas | 5 x 7 inches each

    My work is mostly two-dimensional and features a lot of distortion in the form of figures, silhouettes, patterns, and symbols. I use acrylic and oil paints, which allows me to concentrate on creating a wide and busy range of colours in my pieces. To make my art interesting and help scatter the eye throughout the composition, I frequently use colours that clash and are traditionally thought to be 'ugly' colour pairings. The colours are intended to draw attention to the distorted cluster of shapes that I typically create, ensuring that my pieces never have a single focal point. I enjoy colouring in tones that are not even human. Despite the fact that some of my pieces deal with serious folkloric trends and tales, I believe my paintings can create an experience for a rather large audience outside of the Sylheti community, and that is my ultimate goal.

    'Barak & Surma' Diptych | Acrylic and Fuji ink on unstretched canvas | 5 x 7 inches each

    About the Artist

    I am a professional visual artist, practicing in varied mediums with high interest in culture and folklore fraternity. My practice reveals through drawings, paintings and digital creation, the contexts marked by the folklore, the breaking down of concrete spaces, language, and identity. I am co-founder of the Museo Collective, where I work full time to help with the holistic practice of art conservation, restoration & preservation of art and antiquities. I currently live and practice in Gurugram.