Interview with Textile Artist Nikita Sheth

Nikita Sheth is a textile artist living in Sydney, Australia. She began weaving some years ago at a time in her life when she wanted to channel her energy toward something positive. She gravitated to it naturally. Unbeknownst to her then, it was an art form her ancestors from Gujurat, India practiced as well. It wasn't until two years after she began her practice that her grandfather verbalized the connection out loud to her. Nikita says weaving is in her blood, and anyone who views her work can certainly see her heart is there. 

How did you first get into weaving and the loom? What is your personal history with the art form? Did you have any formal training?

Weaving literally fell into my life at a time when I needed it most- I was going through a rough break up. I was just mindlessly surfing the internet and stumbled upon a frame loom on etsy – without knowing anything about weaving, instinctively, I just bought it. Over the months, I taught myself (6 years ago, there weren’t that many weavers/weaving resources on the internet!). It was the perfect art form for me – it was intuitive, forgiving (you can just unpick a line if it doesn’t work out) and textural. It allowed me to channel my energy into something positive.

I love your "love loom" project - can you tell our readers a bit about it and how you first conceived of the idea? What has the experience of creating this collaborative, essentially community-based, project has been like for you, and what has the response been from others you've created the "love loom" for/to partake in?

I was sitting at a friend’s wedding when it hit me – so much of marriage is linked to weaving -  in marriage our souls are ‘woven together', lives ‘interwoven’ and ‘tied together’. That night the idea of the Love Loom was created!

I love the symbolism intrinsically tied to weaving – we start off with single threads and end up with a woven piece of fabric. Love Loom is a celebration of binding people together through the act of weaving.

I create an artwork on my timber loom and leave certain sections blank. I then invite wedding guests to ‘finish’ the weave with fragments of bridesmaids dresses, bridal lace, and other sentimental fabric. What results is a timeless, personal, and sentimental artwork that you can display and hold onto forever. Guests love it – especially after they have had a few drinks!

The project is still very much in its infancy, and I hope to keep evolving it...

I really enjoyed your blog post about blank canvases, and I know in it you describe that you never plan out your weavings, that they are primarily intuitive - can you describe what this process feels like? Do you have any rituals to prepare yourself or your space in lieu of overtly planning your work out?

Weaving for me is an exercise in letting go and loosing control. I literally surround myself with yarn…I spread lots and lots of yarn on the floor…and then just…. start.

I try and silence my mind as much as I can (I prefer to work in silence, but sometimes will put on a podcast or some music). I then just pick and choose colours and shapes as they come. I try my hardest not to ever think of what the finished piece will look like – but instead enjoy the piece as it is…in my mind, at every stage it is complete!

I find my thoughts, emotions, and general state of mind always unravel in my weaving...

You write on your website that your work is inspired by motifs, pigments, and shapes; drawn from tribal spirits and ancient knowledge - can you talk more specifically about what tribal spirits and ancient knowledge inspires you?

I am quite spiritual and tend to intuitively draw my colours and shapes from my Hindu religion, rituals or even dress (ie. saris). For example, recently I visited India (on a trip to find wedding saris for myself!), and my mum took me to her favourite temple (which she would frequent as a child) - I was drawn to a group of ladies at the temple who were all meditating whilst creating these beautiful colourful flower garlands (which would later be offered to the gods). Since returning, I have found myself weaving long lines of colour, which symbolically reflect these garlands. I am even inspired by Indian cultural rituals such as making chai - every morning as a child I would wake up to the smell of chai. Mum & Dad would ALWAYS start their day with a freshly brewed pot. Some of my current work references the copper colours of the chai vessel and the patterns the steam would is all very conceptual and abstract!

Can you share more with us about your heritage, which you note traces back to Ahmedabad, Gujurat with the oldest textiles in India - how does your background inform your work today?

When I first started weaving, my Papaji (grandfather) watched me one day and said ‘you do realise, all our ancestors were weavers in Ahmedbhad’. My Papaji knew SO much about weaving – I was honestly in shock. It did explain though – why weaving felt so natural and familiar to me. I love the feeling of different textures and holding fibers in my hands…I believe that the sense of ‘touch’ gets so lost in today’s world. Perhaps, I was a weaver in my past life?!

My heritage definitely informs my work – my work is essentially my way of exploring my heritage – I find myself researching different parts of Gujurat (India's westernmost state) -  rituals, landscape, and dress. In turn, I find myself creating stories and shapes in my works that relate to this.

Have there been any obstacles you’ve had to overcome in your creative journey, and how have you done so?

With the advent of social media – I found myself expending too much energy into looking at other artists' work. I realised that this can be very detrimental to one's self-expression and creativity….

I learnt this lesson quite quickly – real life extends beyond the screen, and I now try to focus on my own journey and development. I am bit of a nerd and try to be as old school as possible – I do enjoy random trips to the library. 

Who are some women that inspire you creatively in your work and in general, in your life?

Sophie Tatlow - I randomly met Sophie Tatlow a few years ago – from the moment I met her, I was captivated. Not only is she talented, but she is a true hustler – with an amazing personality and energy!

Alicia Scibberas, Stylist - she is my best friend and continually blows my mind with her effortless style – it comes naturally to her. Alicia takes risks with her life and creative career, it is a privilege to have her in my life and watch her career evolve.

Jodie Fried – Co-Founder of Armadillo&Co  – Jodie inspires me day to day -  not only is she the co-founder of such a socially responsible and aesthetically beautiful company, but she also has three kids. I honestly don’t know how she does it – I hope that one day I can balance work and life like she does. 

What are you reading/listening to/watching right now?

Reading: I am reading two books at the moment - A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara and Agnes Martin's Biography.

Listening to: Conversation Hour with Richard Fidler – hands down my favourite Australian Podcast.

Watching: Cosmos – an awesome documentary series on space (I went to the observatory earlier this year and am now obsessed with space and astronomy!)

What does feminism mean to you?

For me, feminism is having the freedom and feeling empowered to make my own choices and decisions and determine my own values — to conduct my life without judgments, especially by other women. I do feel that (especially in the creative world), it is a strong moment in time for women – there are so many new initiatives and campaigns encouraging women to use their voice!