Artists We Love: Talia Ramkilawan

IMAGES Supplied PORTRAIT Gemma Mary Shepherd INTERVIEWED BY Michaela Stehr

Cape Town-born and Nelspruit-raised textile and tapestry artist Talia Ramkilawan chats to VISI about the process behind her work, her inspirations and her upcoming solo show.

Tell us about your creative process. 

Originally I wanted to make very traditional tapestries with a loom. While doing some research I came across a video on YouTube of someone making a carpet. The technique was called rug-hooking and it was performed with a punch needle. I adapted the technique using a crochet needle and wool and by stretching hessian over a wooden frame. It’s something I wasn’t taught and hadn’t attempted before, so I’m still learning every time I start a new piece – how big can I go, how detailed, what materials can I use? I begin with an intention in mind, but by the end the pieces often become something entirely different.

Where do you look for inspiration?

My work is about forging a sense of community and healing. It deals with subverting the image of family trauma in relation to my own family; a way of healing through making and by creating a presence. I have placed an emphasis on community and the ‘Indian experience’. I feel that’s important in cultural and art production as it helps to disrupt the linear narrative, exposing how trauma of the past resonates in the present. And so my inspiration comes from my own family dynamics and my own specific experience with South Asian identity, culture and trauma.

How did your artistic journey begin?

I was a child who loved to draw and paint and make a mess like most children do. It was only in my last year or two of high school that I really made the decision to study art. Coming from a brown family largely made up of doctors, wanting to be an artist wasn’t well received and I was discouraged. I’m lucky, however, that my mother believed it was ultimately my own decision and that my father was already in the creative industry.

I think going into art school knowing what you want to get out of it makes your time there easier. I, on the other hand, had no clue! I felt I was kind of sitting in the middle, and towards the end of my third year I realised it was because I wasn’t making art for me. I had created this idea of what an artist should be. I was a sculpture major and so, I thought, I should make sculptural works. I created in metal and wood, even though it felt too harsh and I felt very disconnected from the work I was making. In my fourth year I discovered rug-hooking. I could sit for hours on end with myself, the imagery, the medium. Ultimately my work started to feel more intimate because it was for me and for my own process of healing.

What local artists are on your radar at the moment?

Githan Coopoo, an amazing jewellery designer; Saaiq’a Ebrahim and Meghan Daniels, both amazing photographers and filmmakers; Alka Dass, Tyra Naidoo, Tazmé Pillay and Boni Mnisi… The list goes on and on!

What are your plans for the next year?

I’m currently doing my postgraduate in education, so hopefully I’ll be teaching high-school visual art next year. I also help run and facilitate children’s holiday art workshops. It’s hard work, but so much fun and definitely something I could see myself continuing to do. And of course I’ll still be making art. The tapestries are still such a new medium for me and I have so much more I want to explore. I’m preparing for a solo exhibition at SMITH next year.

Check out Talia’s art on SMITH Studio’s site and find her on Instagram (@taliaramkilawan).