Chanakya School of Craft and Dior Present ‘Cosmic Garden’ during la Biennale di Venezia

Culturalee attended a press view in Milan of ‘Cosmic Garden’, an upcoming collateral event of the 60th International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia, presented by the Chanakya Foundation and Karishma Swali. ‘Cosmic Garden’ is an artistic collaboration between Madhvi Parekh, Manu Parekh, Karishma Swali and the Chanakya School of Craft, a non-profit institution committed to the emancipation of women through craft. Chanakya School of Craft Founder and Creative Director Karishma Swali is on a mission to preserve the cultural heritage of the art of Indian embroidery, and she set up the Chanakya School of Craft in 2016 to teach the ancient art to women.

Madvhi Parekh ‘Village Opera’, Courtesy Chanakya Foundation.

Curated by Maria Alicata and Paola Ugolini, ‘Cosmic Garden’ will take place in the Salone Verde, Art and Social Club, Calle Regina, during la Biennale di Venezia from 20th April until 24th November, 2024. The exhibition honours the pluralistic beauty of India’s cultural heritage, featuring paintings and sculptures by Madhvi Parekh and Manu Parekh, and the evolution of their practice into a third interdisciplinary medium — hand-embroidery — presented through crafted works and sculptures created by the Chanakya School of Craft and its Creative Director Karishma Swali.

This carefully curated series of works embraces a multidisciplinary approach, dismantling hierarchies between the arts, roles, and genres. The project seeks to re-evaluate the mutual relationship between women and embroidery, transcending the confines of domesticity by bringing hand-embroidery into the public sphere.  

Managing director of Chanakya International Karishma Swali photographed with artists Madhavi and Manu Parekh at their studio in New Delhi on 25th October, 2023.
Photo Credit: Sahiba Chawdhary

With the ‘Cosmic Garden’ exhibition in Venice, Karishma and the artists Manu and Madhvi Parekh are aiming to dismantle hierarchies between the arts, roles, and genres by presenting new interdisciplinary works that are yet firmly rooted in collective cultural histories. 

Karishma Swali explains: ”Our works blossom out from an on-going exchange with Manu and Madhvi Parekh: they truly embody a multidisciplinary approach that invite us all to critically reflect on the mutual relationship between women and embroidery, and on the enormous creative potential that hand-embroidery can have when it transcends the confines of domesticity and is brought into the public sphere.The artists (Madhvi and Manu Parekh) have their own paintings, and I work with the artisans to create a language that represents their artistic language. The paintings we’ve created for Venice are monumental in size, around 3 metres x 5 metres.”

Madhvi Parekh and Manu Parekh are husband and wife, and are both exhibiting in ‘Cosmic Garden’. However, despite their union of marriage, they have different painting and aesthetic styles. Madhvi Parekh’s paintings depict formidable female deities surrounded by celestial beings and symbolic representations, inspired by Indian mythology. 

Manu Parekh’s work, which is also influenced by Indian cultural traditions, in contrast, incorporates aspects of Western modernism and abstract expressionism. His vibrant compositions, characterised by broken lines, stripes, crosses, and floral motifs, embody the cosmic harmony of masculine and feminine energies.

What unites Manu and Madvhi Parekh’s artistic practice is a celebration of Indian ancestral traditions and myths, where the spiritual dimension serves as a potent imaginative and creative device. The interdisciplinary works created by Karishma Swali and the Chanakya School of Craft transcend conventional boundaries to carve out an artistic language firmly rooted in collective cultural histories. 

Drawing upon that language – first unveiled at the Dior Spring Summer 2022 haute couture presentation – these new works are brought to life through meticulous needlework embroidery and handcraft techniques, utilising organic materials like raw linen, jute, silk, and cotton to capture the purity of the artists’ and Karishma Swali’s aligned vision. Affirming a practice rooted in a dialogue that redefines the roles of both artist and artisan, these three-dimensional works visually encapsulate a true artistic statement, blurring the boundaries between art and craft.

Manu Parekh ‘Goddess’ (Found object). Courtesy Chanakya Foundation.

The title ‘Cosmic Garden’ comes from one of the artworks that will be exhibited in Venice, titled ‘The Gate of the Cosmic Garden’.  

Karishma Swali explains: “Cosmic Garden very appropriately evokes this idea of entering a new world, and discovering this world. One of the key aspects of the foundation is to be able to protect intangible heritage, which is the craft.  But the Cosmic Garden exhibition allows us to do this in a tangible way. So it’s this blend between the tangible and the intangible.”

Over her 25-year career, Karishma Swali has dedicated her efforts to the preservation of India’s cultural heritage through craft excellence. Under the guidance of Maria Grazia Chiuri, Creative Director of Dior women’s collection, Chanakya Foundation co-founder, Karishma Swali established the Chanakya School of Craft in 2016 as an institution to help women harness the power of craft to address pressing challenges in society. The school’s guiding mission is twofold: to safeguard India’s cultural heritage and to unlock the infinite potential of craft. To-date, the school has taught over 1,000 women, across all ages and socio-economic backgrounds, forming a strong community of skilled women. 

Karishma Swali and Chanakya Foundation. Untitled VIII (detail). Courtesy Chanakya Foundation.

Since 1998, Karishma Swali has led Chanakya International, a global textile house with a four-decade history in the preservation, revival and conservation of India’s intangible cultural heritage. Across her 25-year career, which includes stints at international luxury houses, Karishma Swali has worked towards bringing India’s diverse craft traditions to the forefront. In 2016, Karishma established the Chanakya School of Craft, a non-profit foundation and school dedicated to craft, culture, and creating new autonomy for women. The school has taught over 1000 women to-date, across all ages and socio-economic backgrounds forming a strong community of skilled women. Since 2020, Karishma Swali has collaborated with notable contemporary artists such as Judy Chicago, Eva Jospin, Manu Parekh, Madhvi Parekh, Olesia Trofymenko, Mickalene Thomas, and Marta Roberti. These works have since been featured at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco and the Museum of Impressionism in Giverny (France).

Karishma was the recipient of the 2022 Grazia Millennial Award for Contemporary Craftsmanship, and in 2021 she was named one of the top 10 leaders in the fashion industry by CEO Insights; she was also recognised as a Cultural Ambassador by Asia Society India Centre and, since 2022, she has been a member of the BoF500, an index of the 500 most influential thought leaders in the world. In June 2023, she was invited by USA President, Joe Biden to attend the Washington State Dinner held in honour of India’s Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi. 

Cosmic Garden will be exhibited at the Salone Verde, Calle Regina, 2258, 30135, Venezia from 20th April to 24th November, 2024.

Madvh Parekh ‘Flying Goddess’. Courtesy Chanakya Foundation.

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