Spandita Malik Stitches Together Community

This photo of Spandita Malik’s work was taken by Debra Thimmesch of FF2 Media while visiting the Kemper Museum.

Visual artist Spandita Malik is known for her signature combination of photography, printing, and embroidery. Spandita’s work represents not only her own talent, but the talents of countless women. Today, on the first anniversary of the opening of her exhibit Jāḷī—Meshes of Resistance, FF2 celebrates Spandita and her work. Spandita describes herself as an artist deeply concerned with “the current global socio-political state of affairs.” She works with the demanding themes of colonialism, women’s rights, and gendered violence. In doing so, Spandita showcases domestic, women-centric corners of her home country of India. 

Who is Spandita Malik?

Born in Chandigarh in 1995, Spandita continued to live and work in Northern India while obtaining her Bachelor of Design in Fashion Design from New Delhi’s National Institute of Fashion Technology. After graduation, Spandita decided to pursue her postgraduate education and career in the United States. She relocated to New York City in 2017 to study at the New School’s Parsons School of Design. Before obtaining her Master of Fine Arts in Photography from Parsons, the school also awarded Spandita with the Dean’s Merit Scholarship and Photography Programmatic Scholarship.

While still at Parsons, Spandita began the project which would go on to define her career thus far: Nā́rī. Nā́rī is a Hindi word with several possible definitions. Depending on the situation, it could mean woman, wife, or even the more foreboding, “sacrifice.” Spandita’s works in the Nā́rī series follow the same creative formula. She begins by photographing women in their own rooms in India. She then prints these photographs onto fabric from the women’s regions, and invites her subjects to embroider the piece themselves. 

Spandita’s exhibit titled Jāḷī—Meshes of Resistance

Spandita’s Jāḷī—Meshes of Resistance exhibit acts as a continuation of Nā́rī. Therefore, the exhibit is not filled with solo work, but rather many collaborations between the artist and subjects. Spandita herself calls these collaborations “subversions.” “These artistic collaborations subvert the idea of the artist as the main producer by giving each woman her own creative entity within her own craft,” Spandita writes. “It also engages the problem of representation in portrait photography as addressed by giving women control over their own image.”

The idea of women’s autonomy is central to this work. Spandita’s collaborators are all women who take part in various support groups for survivors of domestic and gender-based violence across Northern India. Spandita created and fostered this community of women. They stayed in touch across the world from each other and through a global pandemic with the help of calls, messages, and, of course, art. This exhibition’s name, Jāḷī, is a word connoting something net-like. Here, it could mean both embroidery and community.

FF2 weighs in on Spandita’s work

In her review of the exhibition, FF2 collaborator Debra Thimmesch likens the Jāḷī—Meshes of Resistance exhibit to “a net of fine, rich threads connecting a sisterhood of women joined by art, sacrifice, and suffering.” These women tell their own stories through their embroidery, infusing truth and power into the work with each stitch.   

Debra continues her review by praising the collaboration-based nature of Spandita’s work. She writes, “Relinquishing control of the portraits, turning them over to their subjects and accepting whatever embellishments and modifications they made as crucial expressions of self-determination, was essential to the success of these collaborations.” 

Viewing the works from Meshes of Resistance, I agree completely. The photographs which Spandita takes alone are gorgeous and powerful. Each of her decisions hum with quiet authority: the positioning of the subjects in the room, the objects or empty space which surround them, the beams of light entering from padlocked windows. 

This photo of Spandita Malik’s work was taken by Debra Thimmesch of FF2 Media while visiting the Kemper Museum
Click image to enlarge.

However, it is the additions provided by the women themselves which allow these pieces to truly sing. Each piece of embroidery feels wholly unique as the woman depicted herself. The rich colors grab the eye and draw it to these small pieces of woven thread, as the woman sitting in the picture looks out, as if to say, “Hello. It’s good to meet you. I did this.”

Getting the recognition she deserves

Spandita Malik has thankfully received much recognition in recent years for her inspiring work. She has been the recipient of several awards, including but not limited to 2020’s South Asian Arts resiliency Grant, 2021’s En Foco Photography Fellowship, 2022’s Hopper Prize, and 2022’s The 30: New and Emerging Photographers Award. Spandita has also been selected for many residencies, including the Baxter St Workspace Residency, the Feminist Incubator Residency, the Silver Arts Projects Residency, and the Bemis Center of Contemporary Arts Residency. Her work also has shown in many publications, such as Harper’s and Musée, as well as been exhibited internationally in over 10 countries. Spandita currently works as a post graduate teaching fellow at the Kansas City Art Institute.

When speaking about her relationship to the subjects of her work, Spandita writes, “There is an ease in unloading the pain in the agony of another; there is a strange trust and care in these private places, shared by women, known to women.” Spandita’s decision to center women’s spaces and lives in her work is a powerful one. Her pieces serve to reeducate the eye of their viewers. Photographs of women in “normal” domestic settings are enlivened by the women’s own fingertips. Her work connects women across the world; stitching a community together with both shared experiences and bright thread. Thank you, Spandita, for allowing your subjects to speak for themselves. 

© Reese Alexander (7/6/24) – Special for FF2 MediaPortrait of the artist, Spandita Malik. 

LEARN MORE/DO MORE

Check out Debra’s review of Jāḷī—Meshes of Resistance on FF2 Media.

Visit Spandita’s website.

Read Spandita’s own words on her ongoing Nā́rī series.

Learn more about Jāḷī—Meshes of Resistance on the Kemper Museum’s website.

CREDITS & PERMISSIONS

Featured Photo & Middle Photo: This photo of Spandita Malik’s work was taken by Debra Thimmesch of FF2 Media while visiting the Kemper Museum. Approved for legitimate use by others as long as a link to this page is provided in user’s credits.

Bottom Photo: Portrait of the artist, Spandita Malik.

Tags: ational Institute of Fashion Technology, Jāḷī—Meshes of Resistance, Nā́rī, New Delhi, Spandita Malik

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Reese Alexander is currently a student at Barnard College, where she studies English literature, creative writing, and French. Reese enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction, and her work has been published in multiple campus publications, including Quarto, Echoes, The Barnard Bulletin, and The Columbia Federalist. Reese is most passionate about medieval literature, as she believes it illustrates the contributions of women artists throughout the centuries.
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