Fabric of Daily Life: Padma Rajendran in the Studio

November 9, 2018 by

Artist Padma Rajendren’s work delivers themes of migration, women, labor, and the narratives of domesticity by grounding us in earthly, bodily experiences. Despite the aesthetic lightness, she delivers bright and playful forms that hold weight with meaning, “I’m trying to communicate ideas that are not always lighthearted, but it’s harder to ignore the lovely things.” As these topics continue to be at the forefront of our national dialogue, her work is both classic and timely in its subject matter and serves as a visual ode to “being in a space, how we take rest, food, how we hold on to culture, and how we hold onto time.”

Narrative is key in Rajendran’s work. The flatness of her imagery is reminiscent of hieroglyphics or cave paintings and it functions in a similar way – combining the decorative with the descriptive to tell a story. Depictions of fruit, domestic settings, and ritual are central focuses that supply a view into an interior world. “I want to present a story or object [in order] to glimpse scenes that don’t necessarily get visibility. I want to look at the contradictions of this life and objects that don’t get time to be considered.” Presenting us with daily ephemera, we begin to see (or imagine) their journeys and the symbolic contributions that punctuate our cultural make-up.

A continuous thread throughout her work is the idea of comfort, “I’ve been thinking of how we attain comfort and what we (humans) can take with us as migrants, often that’s certain fabrics like heirloom quilts or our clothes. I think about time and future and anticipation and I’m curious about how clothing connects us.” Through fabric there is a unifying language, one that ties an individual to a greater network of lived experiences. In this way, Rajendran’s choice to work with this medium is an attempt to “describe a time and place while also attempting to describe a universal idea: human experience.”

When considering home and ritual, women are at the center, and this is something that interests Rajendran. Specifically, how the labor and tasks assigned to women tend to be consumed, eroded, and lost to time. Rajendran views culture as “linked to the visual of food and fabric and women’s labor in the domestic space.” Although we don’t typically see gendered human figures in her work, we do see food, vases, water, and hands, which take on greater meaning, encompassing “the idea of prosperity and symbolism of the home [as] derived from the female body.”

Rajendran’s work sits somewhere in between fine and folk art and questions the embedded hierarchical judgments that funnel art into either category. She considers folk art through art historical and anthropological lenses. To create with what is available, with what is part of one’s life, environment, and community are aspects that interest Rajendran. “Typically within folk art people are often not formally trained. These artists use found materials or things we don’t often designate as fine art materials, they are more related to function and what’s available. I like working with this as a kind of constraint.”

Attracted to the unrefined and at times loose quality of line, Rajendran’s work feels intuitive, as if made with a quick hand. The rough-hewn borders and draping quality of her pieces create an inviting and home-like environment that makes developing a relationship with her work that much easier than were it on tight stretched canvas with formal edges and feel. “I think about who has access to art and art experiences and I’m conscious of bringing [a] level of comfort to those environments. There are so many rules to looking at art…you have to maintain this professional demeanor and I’m trying to bridge that and bring humor and joy to the experience.”

Rajendran captures the often overlooked things and individuals that occupy and come to define a home. This is reflected through her choice of materials and the enlivened renditions of life’s domestic substance. Her work operates on many symbolic and metaphorical levels. Weaving together fabric, bits of paper, stitching, found objects, and inks and dyes, she transforms materials through her process into a tapestry of the collected, acquired, layered experiences of our daily lives.

Padma Rajendran was born in Klang, Malaysia. She received her BA from Bryn Mawr College and received her MFA in Printmaking at Rhode Island School of Design. She currently lives and works in Catskill, NY and teaches printmaking at SUNY Purchase. She has exhibited at the International Print
Center New York, Whitespace Gallery (Atlanta), Ortega y Gasset Projects (Brooklyn), and High Tide (Philadelphia).

Marisa Malone is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has been published in Selfish Magazine and BlazeVox Journal   and she has self-published two chapbooks of poetry.