art / People

Turf, Textiles, and Tufting

26 October 2023

This week we catch up with our current social media header artist, Divya Sharma – a multi-disciplinary artist whose current work leads with the medium of textiles and threads, she has a studio in Turf Projects. We find out about her artistic practice, inspirations and busy exhibition schedule.

Croydonist: First of all, what’s your link to Croydon, and what area do you call home?

Divya: I live in Worcester Park and my studio is in Croydon. I have an artist’s studio in Turf Projects Whitgift Centre Croydon.

Croydonist: How would you describe your artistic practice? 

Divya: My art practice is the result of my chipping away one bit after another within my own mind, unlearning and relearning what I had thought was a given. It is the building up with every layer upon layer of experimenting and taking chances. It is my sanctuary, my walk in the wilderness, my spiritual enterprise!

Croydonist: How did you get to where you are today?

Divya: I am a London based Indian-British artist. I moved with my husband and young daughter to the UK in 2009. Growing up in 80s India, I was not encouraged to take up creative studies and so when we moved to the UK, I decided to give it a go and immediately enrolled in evening courses to practise and learn ‘techniques’ in portrait painting and figurative ceramic sculpture. It was after I joined Art college (UAL) for my BA in Painting and then MA in Sculpture from the RCA that I found my voice and could put all the ideas and themes and techniques I had learnt into context.

I am a multi-disciplinary artist but the pandemic and the lockdown in 2020 was a catalyst that prompted me to seriously take up textiles and threads as a medium. I found my niche with tufting, and this has opened many opportunities in terms of being selected for strategic art competitions. The New Contemporaries is a prestigious two round rigorously juried competition for art students (in 2021 it was judged by Veronika Ryan and Xadie Za), and I was the only one from my cohort in the RCA to have been selected. I was also selected by the Textile Triennale in Lodz, and the NAE Open in Nottingham.

A chance message from Emmanuel (Boateng) after he saw my work at the South London Gallery became a collaboration and this has resulted in shows and interest from people. We have also been granted the elusive Arts Council Funding for the next two shows!  Apart from this, I have also co-founded a South Asian Arts Collective The Neulinge Collective in 2017 and have co-curated three shows. I am the founder and host of the ARTiculate podcast and broadcast on Apple Podcasts.

Croydonist: Tell us about your recent and current exhibitions.

Divya: I was part of the New Contemporaries Show in The Ferens Gallery in Hull and the South London Gallery till March 2023. Then I was part of the NAE Open in Nottingham from May to September 2023. I have also taken part in a group show ‘The Walls Are See Through’ and my current show is at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery at the University of Greenwich titled ‘Fragments Folds and Frays’. My next show is called ‘Textile is Intelligent’ at the Koppel Studios in Hampstead. And the Croydon BID ‘Creative Croydon’ project with three of my works going up as banners in Croydon!

Croydonist: Where do you create your work?

Divya: I work 4 full days in my ‘day job’. Since I work from home, I use one of the rooms at home as my studio so there is minimal time spent on transitioning between my office and my studio. This has worked fine but I miss my studio in Turf terribly. That’s where I have my weaving loom set up and plan to spend my weekends doing some weaving and tufting also of course.

Croydonist: What’s the process for you when you start a new work?

Divya: I am very forthright with my creative process. This is deliberately done for a reason because I have realised the more I plan or do a ‘visualisation’ or a mood board sort of process the more intimidating it becomes as I think my brain starts to get anxious and the dreaded fear of failure sets in. That can be a real impediment to the creative process. So the best way for me has been to just start with a very sketchy idea and begin with the cutting into shape of the fabric, tufting of a ball of a certain coloured yarn on the fabric and then let my creative mind take over. I genuinely think this nudges my subconscious mind into action and this feels like the cliched ‘channelling the cosmos’! I never judge or criticise the process and take my time with the finishing and let each step ‘marinate’ before adding another layer to it. ‘Trust the process’ is a good phrase for me!

Croydonist: What’s been your most challenging piece?

Divya: I think when a piece becomes a challenge it’s a red flag. It means I am going against my instincts (maybe because of time constraints or other things) and I am force fitting an idea. I have never felt that my piece was resisting or pushing back with my ‘successful’ pieces. It is only with the ones I am not sure of that I get worried. For example, my degree show installation was so challenging because it was done at home on my kitchen table (pandemic time). The actual gallery space allocated was huge with high ceilings etc and my installation was dwarfed by the walls. It just did not work and I felt really anxious.

Croydonist: How long does a piece typically take you?

Divya: My tufted pieces are usually 3 metres long and take about 2 months.

Croydonist: Classic interview question – if you had to invite 3 artists or creatives over for dinner (dead or alive) who would they be?

Divya: Tracey Emin – I adore her. She is so wise and brave and such a role model for all women (and men). She had her heart on her sleeve and has been that way much before it was a cool thing to do!

Laurie Anderson – I really loved her three series talk in 2021 and she seems such a powerhouse of talent, wisdom and fun. She would be such a great dinner guest!

Micahel Rakovitz: Another favourite artist – he is someone I would like to be when I grow up (haha). He is an American Iraqi artist working with showcasing his heritage through amazingly well-done pieces using bottle caps and Iraqi snack covers. He also works with video, prints and metal etc. He was the Fourth Plinth artist in London in 2018 with his piece ‘The invisible enemy should not exist’. He is very interesting!

Croydonist: Favourite spot in Croydon for inspiration?

Divya: Wandle Park and Boxpark (my musician husband sings in this place from time to time) and of course Turf Projects in Whitgift Centre. I love the bustle of the high street.

Croydonist: What’s next for you this year? 

Divya: My next show in Koppel Studios in Hampstead. It is on for a month (from 24 November to 15 December). The venue is interesting as it happens to be an ex-prison from the 60s. It has prison cells and the original furniture from that time. Our mandate has been to convert this space and with the funding we have received we have big plans.

Our current show, ‘Fragments Folds and Frays’ at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery in Greenwich is on until 2 November.

Big thanks to Divya for chatting with us. There’s still time to catch her current show, and/or keep up to date with her upcoming shows and work on Instagram

All images courtesy of the artist.

Posted by Julia

One Comment

Sanat Rao

We’ve known Divya as a close friend for many years and we are neighbours. And yet this interview told us so much more about her as a person and her thinking about her art. Kudos to her for the path she’s chosen and of course we wish her great success from her (growing number of) shows.

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