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Crafting their Way Back into Contemporary Art

The debate between what is art and what is craft has been a long and ongoing one. In (Western) art academic terminology, crafts such as needlework, quilting, beading, batik and rattan work are seen as decorative and/or functional in purpose, and have therefore not been considered fine art. Rather, they falls into the category of applied art, craft or handicrafts.

Hema Guha, Space III, 2015 Acrylic, Thread, Buttons on Canvas, 40 x 40 inches. Image Courtesy of Lakeer

Hema Guha, Space III, 2015 Acrylic, Thread, Buttons on Canvas, 40 x 40 inches. Image Courtesy of Lakeer

In Asia, historically, this distinction never existed; it was only as a result of colonisation and its impact on art education that the break between art and craft emerged. Art schools set up with a European inspired curriculum relegated the applied arts to industry and a separation occurred between artist and artisan.

Contemporary Asian artists, however, are increasing finding ways of bringing these crafts back into the arts. Museums, galleries, fairs and exhibitions are abound with art that incorporates these centuries old traditions into the contemporary. This weekend at the Affordable Art Fair, I couldn’t help but notice how many artists have used embroidery, buttons, beads, fabric and folk art to create exciting and unique contemporary works! Here are some examples of it:

Iqi Quror, Formalist Of Madness, 2015, Acrylic, Charcoal, Wool on Canvas, 150 x 110 cm. Image Courtesy of Art Front Gallery

Iqi Qoror, Formalist Of Madness, 2015, Acrylic, Charcoal, Wool on Canvas, 150 x 110 cm. Image Courtesy of Art Front Gallery

Shinsuki Tsurukai, Moss Wood, 2015, Beads Resin on Canvas, 41 x 32 cm.

Shinsuki Tsurukai, Moss Wood, 2015, Beads Resin on Canvas, 41 x 32 cm.

Wei Huang, Knight, 2015, Aluminium, 86 x 70 x 70 cm

Wei Huang, Knight, 2015, Aluminium, 86 x 70 x 70 cm

Kim Soon Cheol, About Wish 1588, 2015, Mixed Coloring  on Korean Paper, 27 x 27 cm

Kim Soon Cheol, About Wish 1588, 2015, Mixed Coloring on Korean Paper, 27 x 27 cm

And it is not only Asian artists who are drawn to the techniques and materials of the traditional crafts. Zara Merrick, a British artist, creates textiles works that are entirely hand stitched. Using vintage and contemporary fabrics that have been sourced from antique fairs she creates each piece by layering the fabrics and using embroidery to create depth and shade.

Zara Merrick, Cockatoo, 2015, Hand Stiching, 54 x 57 cm

Zara Merrick, Cockatoo, 2015, Hand Stiching, 54 x 57 cm

As artists continue to look for inspiration to innovate, the old has now become part of the new and the gap between artists and artisans seems to be narrowing.

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About Durriya Dohadwala (31 Articles)
Durriya Dohadwala is an independent writer on contemporary Asian art and culture. She is also a docent and enjoys facilitating the decoding of contemporary Asian art.