Fiber Artist Boisali Biswas Weaves Past and Present

Nicholas Youngblood
"He Went from Ordinary to Extraordinary," by Boisali Biswas

Time Warp, an exhibition at the Cultural Arts Center of mixed-media fiber art by Boisali Biswas, is a tribute to transforming without forgetting the past, so it’s fitting that the featured artist got her start taking classes in the very same building.

When Biswas began taking weaving classes at the Cultural Arts Center 30 years ago, shortly after arriving in Columbus with her husband at age 25 from her native India, she dreamed about being featured at the gallery below her classroom. Now, that dream is finally a reality.

Biswas, who was born in Kolkata, studied textile design in her home country, but feels she learned more from the classes she took here in Columbus. Newly settled in an unfamiliar country and desperate to keep practicing at the loom, Biswas took the bus from her home near the Ohio State campus to the Cultural Arts Center for lessons. Her retrospective exhibition at the gallery includes some of the pieces she produced in those classes, decades ago.

Biswas’ work incorporates some of the vibrant colors and patterns typical of Indian textiles. However, these traditional elements represent just one dimension of her art. She explains that back home there was a focus on the commercial uses of textiles. She wanted to weave with only artistic beauty in mind, an ambition fueled by the classes at the Cultural Arts Center. Her pieces now incorporate techniques like painting, printing, quilting and dyeing.

When weaving on a loom, only the vertical strands must be thread. Anything can be woven between these threads, and Biswas has taken full advantage. Some works include straw; others, sticks; some even have glass entwined. One of Biswas’ favorite materials is the orange netting that onions are packaged in at the supermarket, giving her work a distinctive color and texture.

Mixing traditional practices with innovative approaches and materials serves a larger theme of metamorphosis, Biswas says.

“Because I was born [in India] – I was raised there – I think there’s that deep connection which you cannot deny,” Biswas says. “So images and memories and everything keep coming back to me, and that gets reflected in my work a lot.”

The juxtaposition of her past and present lives, Biswas says, is symbolized by the vibrant butterflies that are a focal point on a wall of the exhibition dedicated to her parents.

Butterflies hold powerful significance for Biswas. When she speaks about their transformation, her relaxed tone gives way to a burst of excitement. Last year, Biswas found monarch caterpillars in her back yard and decided to raise them in her kitchen all summer. The life blossoming in her home fascinated her during a difficult time; her father was living out his final days bedridden and 8,000 miles away, and Biswas was unable to visit before his passing. “As I was losing my father, at the same time these beautiful butterflies were being born. That had a real deep impact on me,” she says.

Biswas’ own metamorphosis involves breaking the traditional mold of her early training, experimenting with free-hanging pieces and transparent threads that cast kaleidoscopic shadows on the walls of the Cultural Arts Center. These ethereal pieces evoke an image of an artist emerging from her cocoon, ready to stretch her wings.

Still, Biswas says she is grounded in her past. Her favorite aspect of the butterfly’s transformation is that – despite completely liquefying inside the chrysalis – the insect will retain memories and behaviors from its time as a caterpillar. “Images, people, places, corners, experiences, moments from my origin always keep showing up in my subconscious mind,” she says in an artist’s statement. “No matter how much I have adapted to my life here and embraced everything with all my heart, that love, longing for the roots is embedded deep somewhere.”

The exhibition runs through June 22 at the Cultural Arts Center, 139 W Main St., 614-645-7047,