Sarojani Naidoo is a fibre artist who uses materials such as wool, fabric, acrylic paint and canvas to communicate her views about nature and spirituality. Although fibre art is a form of fine art that has its roots in old craft practices like weaving, quilting, embroidery and tapestry making, in contemporary times it is more conceptual, experimental and aims to critically engage with social and cultural issues. Artists such as Faith Ringgold, Tracy Emin and Billie Zangewa have all used this medium to explore different themes within their art.
(Featured art above, Portal by Sarojani Naidoo)
Sarojani Naidoo was born in Durban in 1956. After completing her matric, she studied to be a teacher at Springfield Training College. She went on to obtain her B.A. degree at UNISA. Although she never studied art at either school or university, she is naturally creative and has a great interest in the subject. About 20 years ago, she began quilting as a hobby. Her interest in fibre art intensified as she became exposed to exhibitions and other fibre artists. Sarojani began attending many fibre art workshops and online classes with international and local teachers to learn the principles of art. Now retired from teaching, she is a member of Fibreworks, a group of South African textile and fibre artists. As a member of the group, she has shown her work at many exhibitions here in South Africa as well as in the USA and Taiwan. She currently lives and works in Durban.
Sarojani paints her canvas with acrylic paints, then adds other materials like fabric, wool or beads to create her artworks. Her method involves using free motion machine work, and occasionally hand sewing, to create the the details of her designs. She says that she enjoys the fact that she can ‘draw with her needle’ as if it were a “pencil”
The…idea I like to convey is beauty in nature and to give reverence to Nature. To save our planet we have to look at and treat Nature with complete awe and reverence. If all humans can do this we can definitely live in a better world without pollution and destruction of the environment (Sarojani).
This quote by Sarojani, makes clear the strong influence of the natural world on her art. She believes in wabi sabi – a Japanese philosophy which finds beauty in the ‘imperfect, incomplete and impermanent’ aspects of nature. Moonglow and Dusk – the two examples of her work shown above, are both inspired by nature. The colours used in Dusk reflect the greens of the landscape and create an impression of trees and fields seen from the air. The red, yellows and orange on the lower half of the image refer to the sun setting at the end of the day. Sarojani enjoys the abstract nature of these images and that they are open to interpretation. She says that “it’s an art form where anything goes and it’s freeing with no rules and that is how I love to work.”
In Nature’s Bounty (left) Sarojani focuses not just on the beauty of nature but also on our dependence on it. The image shows bean pods and the beans that grow within it. Nature provides us with food, fulfilling one of our most basic needs and it is extremely important for us to preserve it. As climate change and the destruction of our natural resources become more threatening, Sarojani seeks to highlight the urgent need to protect our environment.
Sarojani’s work has not always been influenced by her Indian culture, but some of her recent pieces have drawn inspiration from her meditation experiences, which have become increasingly important to her. “Becoming spiritually aware had an impact on my artwork and may surface hopefully in future works of mine”(Sarojani)
The artwork above, Cosmic Dance, incorporates Sarojani’s reverence for nature with her spiritual ideas. The title refers to the Hindu idea of the ‘cosmic dance,’ performed by Lord Shiva, which represents the cycles of creation and destruction in the universe. Naidoo repeats the Aum (Om) symbol several times in this piece, to emphasize the symbol’s power. In Hinduism, Aum symbolises the sacred sound of the universe and is an important chant in meditation. Sarojani creates little vignettes of the natural world within the greater image. One shows a shoal of fish in the ocean, another a flock of birds amongst the clouds, and on the bottom left, stars and the different phases of the moon. Images of the sun, flowers, leaves and the Aum sign all serve to enhance the idea of the spiritual realm existing in harmony with the natural world.
Deconstruct reconstruct (right) is another artwork inspired by Sarojani’s daily meditations and affirmations. The vibrant colours and embroidered words create a positive and uplifting mood. Meditation is one of the ways in which people can deal with stress and anxiety. The affirmations written here – ‘I am strong’, I am creative’ ‘I love me’ can help in the process of deconstructing our old mindsets and reconstructing new ways of thinking.
Nature is inspiring trees, leaves, flowers, the changing seasons, the amazing colours and the beauty of decay and rebirth (Sarojani).
In the catalogue notes for the Fibreworks exhibition at the Tatham Gallery titled, microMACRO, the underlying theme was about mending, healing and recovery. The example of Sashiko (meaning ‘little stabs’ in Japanese) is referenced – this is the traditional art of using fabric pieces to repair and mend old or worn out garments. Rather than hiding the patch or tear, rows of stitching around it, highlight and honour this flaw. In fibre art practises, materials can be torn, burned, frayed or cut; they can then be joined, sewn or used to create new artworks. This idea of deconstruction and reconstruction, of decay and rebirth is integral not just to Sarojani’s work but also to the medium itself.
Sarojani Naidoo’s tactile works of art remind us of the importance of maintaining the delicate balance of life, death and regrowth not just in nature but in our personal lives too.
Online interview with Sarojani Naidoo (15/03/2021)