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Everything has two witnesses, one on earth and one in the sky

This tapestry has been generously funded by the Australian Tapestry Workshop’s Give an Inch funds for an exhibition of contemporary tapestry, 'Current Exchanges' to be held at Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2014 which will celebrate the Dovecot - Australian Tapestry Workshop exchange. The brief for the design was to examine the concept of multiple identities emerging out a colonial and indigenous past and what a future Commonwealth should examine for these countries. Melbourne artist Sangeeta Sandrasegar was selected for this project.

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Artist Statement:

The Commonwealth cannot escape our Post-Colonial eyes, established as it was in the wake of the decolonization of the British Empire through increased self-governance of its territories. In Australia the organisation provokes a further complexity of our identity: the debates surrounding remaining a constitutional monarchy or becoming a republic. As we emerge more confident in our location in the Southern Hemisphere and in our contemporary relationships with now former British Colonies it is necessary that we reflect not only upon our complex multicultural and governmental solutions but begin to interrogate realities threatening our shared common wealth.

Looking forward, and towards sustained relationships I cannot see past the seas that have brought us in contact with one another. They have connected us for centuries through early trade, conquests, war, peace times; they have been rich and abundant. They have given themselves to us thoroughly whilst we continue to pillage them, through industrial fishing, oil spills, and mining pollutants the list goes on.How can we at the beginning of this new century propose to sustainably move forward? This is a complex intercultural question as we grow with vastly different economies, societies and politics.

Yet sea life knows not our national boundaries – our carved up oceans. Our pollutants likewise roam freely, ignorant to national lines they float and blur into one another, mobilized toxic masses that effect not only our oceans, but marine life, smaller water ways and potentially our own lives and health. As the Indigenous people of Australia have understood ‘Everything has two witnesses, one on earth and one in the sky’. So we too must begin to listen to such testimony. We need to work together to not lose any more of this common wealth, just as we have sought to do in our homelands.

About the Artist:

Sangeeta Sandrasegar works within a research-based practice, building narratives in which every new work connects to previous projects. Her practice consolidates postcolonial and hybridity theory, exploring her context within Australia and its relationship to migrant communities and homelands. Her work concerns itself within the overlap of cultural structures - sexuality, race and identity, in contemporary society - and interpreting and representing these shifts. These themes are explored through a visual language concerned with shadows. From installations of paper cutouts, material works and/or sculpture, the constructed shadows of the installation become a motif for themes of self-hood, otherness and in-between spaces. By extending the scope of the art object the cast shadows simultaneously engage with the history of the shadow in Art, and hint towards cognitive alternatives and sites of transformation

In 2004 Sandrasegar completed a Doctorate of Philosophy across the Victorian College of the Arts and the Australian Centre at the University of Melbourne. The content of the exegesis was to formalize a visual practice centred on the creative space of shadows into a theoretical tool. She proposed that the shadow subject could be re-examined and liberated from its historical representations and to be employed as both a positive and salient visual device for representing the ideas being examined in post-colonial and hybridity studies.

Sandrasegar has been represented in group and solo exhibitions since 1996, and is the recipient of several fellowships and prizes. In particular, national showcases for emerging artists: Primavera, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, NEW04, Australian Centre of Contemporary Art, Melbourne. As well as the Auckland Triennial and SCAPE: New Zealand Community Art & Industry Biennial in New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art 05, Gallery of Modern Art Queensland. Last year her work was shown in the Incheon Women Artists Biennale in Korea, and Slash: Paper Under the Knife, Museum of Arts and Design, New York.

Sangeeta is represented by Murray White Room.

Images: The original design, making the cartoon, work in progress of the tapestry, Sangeeta at ATW, work in progress of the tapestry, detail of the original artwork, work in progress of the tapestry. All images by ATW.


Extended Artist Statement:

The Commonwealth cannot avoid being viewed through our shared Post-Colonial lenses, established as it was in the wake of the decolonization of the British Empire through increased self-governance of its territories. Formally constituted in 1949 by the London Declaration it established the member states as "free and equal". Coming from within Australia the organisation also represents another complexity of our identity – our own sovereignty – and the question of remaining a constitutional monarchy or becoming a republic. As we emerge more confident in our location in the Southern Hemisphere and in our contemporary relationships with now former British Colonies it is necessary that we reflect not only upon our own contemporary complex multicultural and governmental solutions but begin to interrogate realities threatening our shared common wealth.

As is enshrined in the commonwealth Charter and promoted by the Commonwealth Games member states have no legal obligation to one another, instead they are regarded as nations with common legacies of language, history, culture, and particularly with shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Our ties to one another exist both in the past and present – whether looking towards England or to the mutual ties of colonisation in all the various splendour and darkness and local interpretation this is the legacy that connects our common wealths. But looking towards the future and towards sustained relationships I cannot see past the sea that has brought us all together. The oceans have tied us to one another for centuries through early trade, conquests, war, peace times; they have been rich and abundant. They have given themselves to us thoroughly. Through their ebb and flow we likewise have moved – floating on these currents through ups and downs, across ways, but ultimately always forwards. And then I think of the destruction we are wreaking upon these waters – the marine life and all that exists beneath us. So I think that if we are to both remember and to move forward positively as interconnected nations with commonality than it lies within us to look towards our natural environments of land and sea and allow for - create - and improve upon these contemporary situations of pollutants – plastics, oil spills, ghost nets etc and create once more a harmony with the seas just as we strive for harmony within our nations. Our transport from one place to another: the seas connect us - beyond borders, politics, cultures – they bleed into our shores. Flowing with the waxing and waning of the moon above us, we remain to be guided by these shared stars, lights, these currents. So when I begin to think about our common wealth into the future– I think about the seas and oceans that bind us – that bring us to each other.

How can we at the beginning of this new century now propose to sustainably continue to move forward? This is a complex intercultural question to solve as we grow with vastly different economies, societies. Our scientists are collaborating across borders - their field of interest naturally borderless. Sea life knows not our national boundaries – our carved up oceans. Our pollutants likewise roam freely ignorant to national lines – they float and blur into one another, mobilized toxic masses that effect not only our oceans, but sea life, marine lives, our water ways and potentially our own lives and health. As the aboriginals of Australia have understood ‘Everything has two witnesses, one on earth and one in the sky’. So we too must learn to listen these to these testimonies. We need to work together to not lose any more of this common wealth, just as we have sought to do in our postcolonial environments.

Ecological Background:

Crude oil can have a range of effects on marine organisms. Invertebrates – animals without backbones, such as fish larvae, plankton, jellyfish, starfish, crabs, shrimp and bivalves – are crucial to the marine food web, yet are more difficult to monitor than larger animals such as mammals, birds and sea turtles. Invertebrate species are often small or microscopic, and some live in the benthic (bottom) zone or throughout the water column, where they may be more difficult to track. A variety of factors affect the impact of oil on invertebrate populations, including the type of oil, how long the oil has been in the water, concentration, type of habitat, microbial communities present, weather conditions and water quality. Because oil spills input a large amount of oil into the marine environment in a short amount of time, marine bacteria that typically digest oil from natural sources cannot break it down fast enough to prevent impacts on other marine life. In addition, if there is more sediment in the water, it mixes with oil, causing the oil to sink or travel farther outside of the spill area.

Polychaetes are a class of worms that are well-adapted to many different marine environments, from hydrothermal deep-sea vents to the ocean surface. They are tolerant to pollution, and some populations actually thrive and grow after oil spills. Because of this, they can serve as an indicator species, helping scientists to locate areas of heavy pollution and are starting to be regarded as the latest ally in the battle against oil pollution in the sea. This research is developing at the Marine Biological Association (MBA) as part of a new European consortium developing novel biotechnological ways of tackling oil spills. Partnering with the University of Ireland in Galway Plymoth scientists are studying how the burrowing creatures help speed up the breakdown of oil by microbes. MBA research group leader, Michael Cunliffe, explains: “Burrowing marine worms have much the same effect as earthworms do in garden soil. As well as bringing oxygen down into the sediment, worms mix things up and accelerate natural microbial breakdown.”

But their possible success in this arena of pollution leads us to another: plastic contamination. Plastic debris degrades by continuing to break up into ever-smaller pieces, which means that a wider range of organisms can ingest this material, and particles of microplastic are now the most abundant form of solid-waste pollution on our planet. Many plastics contain chemical additives, such as plasticizers, dyes, and antimicrobials, which can leach out into sediments and seawater, in other words, the problem with microplastics isn't just the plastic itself, but the complex mix of chemicals the plastics carry with them. "These chemicals are persistent, meaning they could accumulate in the tissue of organisms and take a long time to break down," says Richard Thompson of Plymouth University. "Our laboratory studies provide the first clear evidence that microplastics could cause harm and show that this could result from both the physical presence of ingested plastic and chemical transfer. Our next steps will be to establish the full implications of these findings for organisms in natural habitats."

According to researchers from The University of Western Australia and CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship each square kilometre of Australian sea surface water is contaminated by around 4000 pieces of tiny plastics that could affect humans as well as marine life, starting with the worms, which play a key ecological role as an important source of food for other animals.

Work by Stephanie Wright (University of Exeter) found that if ocean sediments are heavily contaminated with microplastics, marine lugworms eat less and their energy levels suffer. A separate report, from Mark Anthony Browne (Plymouth University), shows that ingesting microplastic can also reduce the health of lugworms by delivering harmful chemicals, including hydrocarbons, antimicrobials, and flame retardants, to them. In addition to their role in the food chain, "lugworms also feed on and churn the organic content in sediments, much as earthworms in the soil do," Wright explains. "If worms in contaminated environments were to reduce feeding levels by an amount comparable to that seen in that lab, it would mean significantly less turnover of sediment." The exact process the MBA researcher group has been exploring that encourages the break down of crude oil.

Although plastic debris is associated with some of the most persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the European Union, the debris is considered non-hazardous by policy makers. "The hazard ranking of plastic within policy about debris needs to be reassessed, and funding from industry, not just government, [needs to be] directed towards research that adequately tests the safety of plastics in relation to humans and wildlife," Browne says.