ARUNI DHARMAKIRTHI // No Flowers in Eden

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A preview of this exhibition is being presented during the month of October at PDX Contemporary Art in the PDX Window Project as part of Portland Textile Month. The exhibition itself will be on view at Nationale when the gallery re-opens at its new location (currently awaiting city permits approval). 

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The afterlife is lush, humid, tropical landscapes. Blue green leaves swaying in gusts of hot air. The figures that walk this land are ancient mythic creatures that speak to the beginnings of the mortal self. —Aruni Dharmakirthi

Mythical figures, symbols, and abstract shapes inhabit Aruni Dharmakirthi’s colorful textile collages in No Flowers in Eden, the Brooklyn-based artist’s first solo show at Nationale, and the inaugural exhibition in the gallery’s new location. As a Sri Lankan born artist who has called the US home for many years, Dharmakirthi creates new narratives for the female archetypes of ancient South Asian and Western mythologies. The Yakshini of South Asian myths and Eve of Western stories, are often revered yet demonized, and ultimately cast out for eschewing norms. Dharmakirthi reimagines their existence after expulsion as a rich and textured afterlife. Her sewn textile collages, which also incorporate quilting and digital collage, connect the ancient with the contemporary through a unique reframing of familiar symbols and archetypes. 

A lavender-hued satin serpent with a humanoid face occupies a central space in Lay Your Head and Rest, a quilted diptych installed on the floor of the gallery. The snake’s counterpart in this work is a dotted satin vessel containing delicate geometric plantlife. Serpents and vessels are both found in the ancient art and mythologies that inspire Dharmakirthi. Serpents, like female archetypes, hold a conflicted space in these narratives. They represent transformation and fertility, but also temptation and malevolent intent. Using thread almost as a material for drawing, Dharmakirthi’s serpent embodies these histories, while also appearing very much of this moment. Similarly, her stain vessel hints at the vases of ancient Greece, but her choice of material, bright pink stain dots against a light purple background, alludes to a beloved grandmother of contemporary art, Yayoi Kusama. 

Dharmakirthi’s textile collages combine traditional techniques of quilting and embroidery with a freshness and immediacy typically found in drawing and painting. She achieves this duality by favoring raw edges and varied textures to the perfectionism of conventional quilting. In her studio practice Dharmakirthi also uses drawing to tap into a subconscious ancestral memory. When she transfers loosely drawn ideas to quilting, the slow nature of the medium gives her the opportunity to develop a deep connection to each work. “The length and repetition of sewing becomes a meditation on the image. I think about my quilted tapestry collages as both vessel and shrine to hold personal and collective narratives.” 

Aruni Dharmakirthi is a Sri Lankan born textile and digital artist based in Brooklyn, NY, whose work has been shown nationally and internationally in galleries including Housing in Brooklyn, NY, and Disjecta in Portland, OR. Dharmakirthi received an MFA in Visual Studies from Pacific Northwest College of Art in 2017, has participated as an artist in residence at the Bric Workspace Residency (NY), Centrum Emerging Artist In Residence (WA), and Caldera PNCA MFA Residency (OR), and recently received an Equity Award by the American Craft Council to attend the Present: Tense 2019 conference in Philadelphia.

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