Dyed Roots: The New Emergence of Culture PDF  | Print |  E-mail

Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art,Toronto, Ontario, Canada. September 9 – October 26, 2008

Curated by Camilla Singh

the artist
Rina Banerjee (U.S.A./India)
Victor Bergen Henegouwen (The Netherlands)
Emelie Chhangur (1st generation Canadian: England/Guyana)
Brendan Fernandes (India/Kenya/Canada/U.S.A.)
Reeta Saeed (Canada/Pakistan)


 “out of curiosity” by Reeta Saeed

From September 9 – 21, designer Rashmi Varma had free reign to creatively inhabit the 12 x 12 foot room.

exhibition press release

The Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto, Canada, is physically located in a city whose population, in large part, points to other countries and cultures to describe itself.  The soil beneath its structure is receptive to roots of multifarious origins.  In Dyed Roots: the new emergence of culture, the intermingling of cultures is considered as a natural consequence of immigration and travel.  The show’s title refers to intrinsic qualities that persist in spite of external influence and efforts made to conceal them.  Dyed Roots: the new emergence of culture explores the ways in which a sense of identity can be cultivated and influenced.  

Reconsidering colonial conquests and the construction of cultural products, the artists in the exhibition call into question notions of integrity and authenticity. Here, any shared understanding of what is fake and what is real is disrupted.  Powerful symbols holding the pride of nations and cultures are disturbed and reclaimed.  In some cases, rather than commenting on authenticity, a deeper history is traced and excavated through the use of materials.  Attention is drawn to the interdependent relationship of tourism, culture, and trade, as well as the evolving significance of cultural artefacts through consumerism (souvenirs). 

In the midst of the exhibition stands a pristine, white room - save for its smashed wall.  This blow makes tangible the vehemence that is sometimes required to bring about change as one idea meets forcefully against another.  It allows for exchange, acting as a window between Dyed Roots: the new emergence of culture and the two consecutive projects which the room will house.


speaking:  Reeta Saeed Artist Statement

My work reflects all that I have absorbed and experienced. I have not only explored tradition but also experimented with different types of cloth. . I like to engage people through my art practice by raising question and seeking answers.


I am currently working with fibre based materials, exploring the process of deconstructing the traditional, using woven cloth. The materials involved are artist’s canvas and other found objects including the flags of countries i have spent time in.

reeta 4

I have played with the threads of flags removing them from certain areas. It’s done by hand, with the pulling of each thread. This process is lengthy and time consuming. It’s the opposite of weaving. Deconstructing the material gradually, giving it new shape, form and image. It’s creating soft sculptures in the most minimal way.  The work “out of curiosity” shows the delicacy of loose threads from British flags, hanging down softly.

  reeta 3 

  I have investigated the past and redefined it into the relevant present. My work is about the feelings, thoughts and experiences that we all share and I find great pleasure by expressing through visual means.

Miss Rashmi’s Embroidery Parlor, 2008


 An intimate and monochromatic Victorian embroidery parlor was created by artist and designer Rashmi Varma as a performance-installation at the MOCCA and the Toronto International Art Fair.  The artist fashioned a historically inaccurate Victorian gown that she wore and encompassed the space with, while seated on her chaise and leisurely, embroidered herself. Visitors to the installation were invited to join the artist in embroidering her dress (while engaging in appropriate parlor dialogue), with only one color of thread - imperial blood red. The entire setting was made from approximately 100 metres of a poly-cotton grey floral fabric, that was culturally vague, but made in Japan.


The parlor also consisted of a birdcage inhabited by Sheffield the stuffed bird, a Taj Mahal pin cushion (a memento of the Empire) and her trusty manservant Mr. Singh, whom she brought back from the Poonjab and trained him to help embroider her entire dress.  Miss Rashmi’s Embroidery Parlor explores the evolution of costume and textiles throughout history: foreign invasions, imperialism, economic trade, cultural exchanges, and artistic explorations. The Victorian era, which also was the height of the British Raj, and the Industrial Revolution were all factors in how costume and textile changed in India, England, Canada and around the world, into the globalised, mass produced and culturally borderless industry that we see today.


Victorian ladies were fond of embroidering and spent ample time creating elaborate designs. Embroidery in India was also a past time of the ladies, but at a greater scale it was the livelihood of thousands of craftspeople, which went into decline with the loss of patronage and the devastating effects of the textile trade controlled by Britain and Europe.   Embroidery requires time and patience, which could be considered a luxury in today’s world. The motion of each stitch raises questions of the value of labor and time spent in handcrafted vs. machine made and Made in Canada vs. Made in India, while the embroidering of the self creates a power dynamic between the artist and the viewer, between us and them.



bio Artist and designer Rashmi Varma uses clothing and textile as her medium.  Self- taught, Varma brings an organic approach to making and wearing clothes, focusing on texture, form and construction. She uses garments to tell stories, exploring ideas of history, space, culture and the crossovers between fashion and art. Montreal born Varma grew up between Canada, Saudi Arabia, and India. She now divides her time between Toronto and New Delhi, and works in fashion, film and the arts.see more images of her instalation on line at her website


Photo Credits:

Reeta Saeed provided her own images  

photographs of Rashmi Varma on location: top and bottom by  joe lewis  middle two provided by Rashmi Varna

Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, 952 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON M6J1G8

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