Work in Progress: Raisa Kabir

During the month of June, we have had the pleasure of hosting Raisa Kabir as our Work in Progress (WIP) resident.  Raisa is an multi-media artist whose practice uses the tools of performative weaving, installation and sound art as a basis of investigation, often fusing genres of craft, politics and performance, with video, photography and sound. Currently, her research is firmly embedded in textiles and the social histories they can encapsulate. Raisa’s work involves weaving in performances and durational installations, addressing the intensive labour processes entailed in textile production that involve the body. In an attempt to embody the performative labors associated with art production and the gendered queer brown body,  her work makes visible the labour of production, and healing trauma held in the body. I had the pleasure of catching Raisa in the midst of a torrential downpour, to discuss her work with textiles which has taken on an inherently political nature.


On her textile background :

“I studied weaving at Chester college in London. Originally I did a lot of embroidery and worked with sculptural forms. I was drawn to weaving because of its history and political connections. I was very drawn to the links between Britain and India in the industrial revolution and the diasporic migration of patterns between South Asians that ended up migrating to the U.K and working in those factories as well. I think there is a lot of violence in cloth and I’m interested in unpacking that. When you’re sewing, you’re using a fabric that has already been created.  You’re working with cloth you have to make warps, you have to make skeins, every single section of every thread of cloth has been touched by your hand. I’m very interested in the way that when I hand weave the differences in the labor that is embedded in the cloth is realized compared to in commercial weaving. As a disabled person, this physically laborious work is not easy. But I am fully invested in the meaning behind the labor that it takes for me to create this cloth. As I subvert ways of pattern-making and orientalism in cloth, my work extends to performance of my process for a full act of resistance. In modernized capitalist society there is no time to make work in this way, and in these performances I make physical the labor processes involved. I refuse to be divorced from the way things are made.”


On her ideal workspace:

“In London, I have a studio, I have a loom which is actually not mechanized. It’s got sixteen shafts but it still takes a lot of time. Previously when I was working on pieces I’d have breakdowns, or simply push my body way too hard. I’ve had to find ways of working that takes into account self-care. I have to make sure I’m taking breaks, and eating well and traveling well. I have to make sure I’m making room for myself in the process because it is so time consuming, labor intensive and painful. I do find textile work to be a kind of anti-dote to a fast-paced work environment because it takes so much of my own body. And I enjoy public performances as well because then I can make visible the hidden traumas and labors that textiles are as a kind of metaphor for production.”


On her ideal environment to show her work:

“In terms of balancing a resistance to the values of large-scale public institutions, it is tricky. We like validation from public institutions, and it is the best way to gain recognition as an artist. I have shown work in big galleries, and its great but institutions are not always accessible to a variety of communities. I find it uncomfortable to take ownership of the knowledge that I have accumulated from researching in indigenous weaving communities, and prefer to disseminate and share that knowledge in activist and diasporic spaces that are accessible. I also enjoy going into D.I.Y spaces that specifically target communities of color in Britain. When I do work in institutions I am challenging the ways that art of people of color is erased. I’m trying to re-assert curriculums and the way that students of color are isolated. As I challenge the canon and the way that certain work becomes devalued, a huge part of this is in textiles and craft arts. Textile arts are often excluded from spaces of high art. I think it’s really important to have anti-performances and work in ways that challenge the power these institutions have.”


On the materials she uses:

“A lot of the weaving I’ve done is with indigenous spun cotton, particularly when I was in India and on residency in Mexico. The culture of cotton is very important to me, and a lot of my work mixes silk and cotton as a very kind of South Asian practice. This is drawing from the idea of the Mashru cloth, silk not being worn next to the skin so having cotton on the bottom. My work uses a type of Jamdani which a supplementary weft type of weaving where you can use a needle to sew in extra patterns, or create a base cloth and then a top cloth that become very very complex patterns. I am using traditional patterns while embedding hidden text in traditional bengali script into the patterns. Often people look at the cloth and see it as very beautiful or ornamental at surface value, but actually they are inverted patterns that contain letters and sentences and lines of text so it becomes a kind of hidden language. I am very interested in the languages of weaving.”


On her time at TAC :

“I’ve created a little space with works that I’ve done before. In this kind of window space you do kind of feel like you’re meant to perform, like you’re on display. I think about how do I work with that, how do I work with the gaze. As I’ve been sick for a lot of my time here I’ve had to negotiate ways of making my work but also not expending too much energy. I think it’s interesting because a lot of the kids that come here and their parents are from rather privileged backgrounds, and a lot my work is based in in being queer and person of color. At the same time being situated in the West Village and being around the pride parade speaks back to how a lot of times people of color are not recognized as being LGBT. A lot of my work is about being invisibilized and erased so I think it matters to be in this location. I enjoy being public facing and talking to people, and I think it’s good not to always be so academic and really disseminate your ideas in a simple, succint way. I’ve really been enjoying my time and I’m really looking forward to the workshop that I will be doing. I really wanted to take resources from TAC and re-distribute them to the Banglashedi queer networks that I’ve been meeting in my time here. It’s about showing that kind of diasporic textile history that I don’t think many people have access to.”


On what the future holds after TAC:

After this I’ll be going back to London, doing some work in Copenhagen for a festival there and doing some workshops on femme identity and labor. I’ll be doing a residency in July at the Tetley Gallery in Leeds. That’s been organized by the North and South initiative which is about bringing artists from all over South Asia and the UK to work with Nikhil Shopra who is a performance artist. So I’m very excited about that and developing some performance works I’ll be doing live weaving  and creating looms out of the bodies of women of color. I work with creating tension between the warps of two women, and then I’ll weave between them. In the Textile Center here in New York one of the remnants of that is a piece of paper I laid between between my feet and traced where they were moving, I traced the marks, I traced the threads. This is from the performance. It’s about tracing and recording the human form. In addition it’s about healing trauma in the body and how that in so many ways that is done through connection. We have so much trauma and history that is carried behind us so the two performers never see each other but they can feel the weight of the other human. As I weave between them it is an anti-performance in which I don’t engage with the public. I do see my work evolving to include performance to embody the trauma that I am trying to evoke through my textiles.”


You can visit Raisa’s installation for Work In Progress this June to learn more about her work and process during Artist Open Hours, on Saturdays, 2-5PM at our Manhattan studio.

Join us for these events with Raisa:


June 23, 7PM

TAC Manhattan


June 29, 5:30-8:30PM

TAC Brookyln

Join Raisa Kabir, in creating a piece of textile art that maps and documents identity and it’s cultural links to memory, place and shared history. 

This workshop will be explore how culture, identity and heritage are carried and detailed through textiles. Some examples of textiles where cultural narratives have been coded and written in to the cloth and passed down as intangible heritages will be presented.

During the workshop, students will create a mapping of their own personal journeys of memory and identity through the making of a hand woven textural ‘maps’ , using creative weaving techniques.

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