Lakshmi Madhavan

Hanging by a Thread II, (2022)

Kasavu Mundu Veshti, thread, head roller, cloth roller, shuttle

36” x 24” (4 panels)


Hanging by a Thread II, (2022) is the second work in a two-part series where the artist cathects in the memory of her late grandmother to create complex threads of identity. She attaches her strongest memory to the smell of her Ammamma’s crisp rice starched kasavu mundu veshti, the only garment she wore throughout her lifetime. The kasavu mundu veshti is a traditional white and gold two-part saree worn by women in Kerala, the veshti covering the torso and the mundu covering the lower portion of the body.


The kasavu references hegemonies of the land, it’s history, politics and the phenomenological encounters they mediate. The artist turns our attention to the ways in which the body  becomes a “text of culture”, a powerful symbolic surface on which hierarchies are demarcated, and even metaphysical commitments to culture are inscribed.


Lakshmi attempts to blur these markers by reconstructing the feminist discourse about the body by challenging the kasavu in its distinction of size, colour, threads and design. The chosen textual signifiers that are intricately handwoven in the body of the fabric: “any-body”, “every-body”, “some-body” and “no-body'' zoom-in and out to morph binaries between class, caste, and gender to craft a cloth of universality. 


The work navigates the artist’s process of mourning over melancholia, as the “body” of the handloom is dematerialised into it’s constituent parts, such as the head roller, cloth roller and the shuttle, to enframe and support the woven text. The resulting structure invokes the human body which is linguistically reconceptualised in the objet d’art. The four panels showcase a deconstruction of cloth to thread and a remantling of the loom – a  becoming and unbecoming of material and meaning.


The elemental part of the weaving process is the shuttle, that is powered by the weavers’ breath to create the warp and the weft on the handloom. Lakshmi weaves this shuttle into the “no-body” panel metaphorically melding the weaver’s breath into the work, reclaiming her connection to her socio-cultural roots through the weavers of Balaramapuram, Kerala.


Within the threads of the laboured hand woven kasavu mundu veshti the artist acknowledges questions concerning labour and artistic production. Balaramapuram remains one of the oldest weaving centers for the authentic custom handwoven kasavu mundu veshti, that struggles to stay afloat and carry forward its legacy in the face of mechanized alternatives. 


In all, through the memorialization of her lineage, the artist weaves a layered montage of themes concerning identity, loss and restitution, alluding to the body as a site of transformation and redemption.


Nainvi Vora

Art Historian/ Writer

Lakshmi Madhavan