I was first introduced to the tapestries by Monika Correa through the pages of ‘The India Magazine’ in the early 1980’s. Then, a student of woven textiles, I was awed by her audacity and ingenuity in removing the reed of the warped threads to weave those fluid yet structured, unforgettable images of the Banyan Tree. This technique, of removing the reed while weaving the fabric, has become Correa’s signature style. In the present body of work, ‘Meandering Warp’, exhibited at Gallery Chemould Prescott Road in Mumbai, the visual qualities of the woven pieces have moved away from representing any sense of the figurative towards a more abstract and philosophical exploration. The large woven pieces present a tactile sensuality that is evocative of a deep, intense questioning of something that seems to have no answer, because, a similar question persists throughout the works. Correa’s woven explorations meander but do not necessarily deviate from the essence of her intellectual preoccupation. The thread canvas is ascetic, yet sensual, evocative of the universal, yet intensely personal
‘Jamshedpur’ [40 x 53 inch], is woven with red-dyed cotton threads in the weft and an unbleached off-white cotton warp. This contrast both highlights the redness of the maroon and softens its bloody overtones. The warp begins, at the bottom, with a division into three, almost equal parts, where in the central portion the reed has been removed lending fluidity to the threads, while the outer ends of the warp threads, are fitted within the confines of a reed for a more structured weave. The basic construction is an open twill weave where the weft colour dominates. The artist has envisioned the work such that even though the magic of its construction lies in the way the warp threads are manipulated, the coloured weft provides the contrast in hue and texture to highlight the dancing movement of the warp threads. A quasi-Rothko-like sectional is drawn as the eye moves slowly from bottom to top, following the weft, but along the lines of the warp. Akin to a vertical river flowing upstream, the wavy threads culminate in a square of vertical waves - effortlessly contained. For, as the weaving progresses, they respond meekly to the discipline of the reed. As if a restless mind having expressed itself has been appeased.
Each tapestry seems to be a continuum of such inner explorations. The trajectory is subtle. ‘Foggy Day’ [40 x 70 inches] begins with the dark colours that underlie the dinginess of a day where the light is blocked by a cloudy sky. Gradually, as the weaver shuttles the weft in and out, light seems to penetrate the realms of a mind fogged out. A Black weft leads to a deep blue and then it gets lighter still until the unbleached cotton warp and weft seem to meet in a confluence of enlightened minds. There is an apparent resolution to this foggy day. However, Correa’s more successful works are those where the resolution is not quite so obvious and the warp distortions create deceptive illusions.
The optical illusion created in ‘The Sound of Silence’ [28 x 62 inches] is skilfully constructed. Woven with black cotton warp threads and a contrasting, unbleached cotton weft, the chatter of the unspoken voices seem to get louder and louder. This is denoted by a singular, precisely woven, steep chevron rising upwards, dissipating into a medley of confused lines. The chevron is still there, but the clarity of its form has dissipated. And yet only so much, for it cannot escape the essential pattern determined by way the warp has been threaded, a construction that is precisely articulated, with the help of the reed, at the commencement of the tapestry. This piece ends with a black warp and weft woven together which obscures the detail of the fabric construction. And darkness descends, as it must when we give into the insecure chattering of the mind. The monochromatic colour-scheme and deceptively simple woven construct draw the viewer into their own mindscapes, looking for something familiar, finding it and then losing it, but without getting lost. There is clarity despite the conundrum.
The tapestries by Correa are highly evocative of the machinations of a contemporary urban mind. There is discipline, but restlessness too. There is structure, but yearning for freedom and fluidity - to just be. Sometimes there is resolve and often resolution too, but many times darkness descends before lightness dawns. The weaving is skilful. The ideas are subtle and not equivocal. Correa’s threads are open to interpretation. Each viewer must find themselves in these thread-ruminations as we do in the fluid, reflective surface of a deep pond.
I found the monochromatic pieces most appealing and the black and white ones most appropriate for the ascetic meanderings of a subtle and refined mind. The exhibition could have been more concisely edited. ‘Tree-One’, ‘Homage to Kepes’, ‘Purple Rose of Cairo’ and ‘Bethlehem’ brought much coarser elements into play. These detracted from the subtlety of the major body of work and I felt that had such works not been included, the song of Correa’s threads would have touched an unforgettable chord.