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  • Writer's pictureAnna Crichton

India exhibition 'Ragpicker at 4am'

Updated: Jul 11, 2020

Thanks to all of you who followed my adventures in Varanasi last year. The embroideries and wood blocking you have seen in my blog are now to be exhibited at the James Wallace Pah Homestead, see the details below. You are all invited to the opening on Monday, September 17th. It would be great to see you there.


Anna Crichton

‘Ragpicker at 4 am’

Abstract Embroidery and Woodblock Carving in Varanasi, India

Hillsborough Exhibition opening: Monday 17 September, 6pm

Exhibition runs 18 September – 11 November 2018


Award winning illustrator, cartoonist and ceramicist Anna Crichton, travelled to Varanasi, India, on a three-month artist residency in 2017 to explore the sculptural potential of bead and thread embroidery and woodblock carving, as media for social commentary.

Once in India, the struggles and hardships of the rural poor – child marriage, female infanticide, forced sterilisation, the caste and dowry system – all issues that particularly impact women, were realities that commanded Anna’s attention.

Developing ideas for abstract imagery that would reflect the tough lives of the less visible was a creative challenge for Anna and demanded a very different thinking process than required for her satirical illustration and cartoons.The dusty chaotic streets of Varanasi are lined with alcoves selling myriad colours of glass beads, miles of cotton and silk thread, metres of hand loomed fabric trucked in from the rural village looms – all new and inspiring media.

After sourcing the right beads, threads and cloth, and working closely with local craftspeople through curious and patient translators, together with Google Translate, Anna provided the embroiderers with detailed designs and thread direction overlays. Carefully following Anna’s designs, the embroideries were hand-stitched onto hand-loomed cotton and silk cloth, and then sewn onto street-worn canvas backings – formerly pedal rickshaw canopies that Anna bought from their bewildered and amused drivers.

Inspired by Varanasi’s wood block fabric printing tradition, Anna was introduced to a fifth-generation carver. From his stockpile of teak, recycled from flat-bed trucks, he precisely worked to Anna’s designs to create objects of beauty and functionality. Each of the wood blocks she commissioned tell their own tough story, and have been hand-rubbed by Anna onto fine village-woven silk.

Anna is the five-time winner of the Canon/Qantas Media Editorial artist award. Her work has been published in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Time, The Australian, New Zealand Herald, Metro Magazine, Cuisine and in other well-known New Zealand publications. She is a two-time finalist in the Portage Ceramic Awards and her work is collected by The Turnbull Library Cartoon Archives.

Anna has lived in Titirangi, Auckland for 21 years. In her twenties, Anna collaborated on The Spirited Earth, a book documenting dance, myth and ritual in Asia, South East Asia and the Pacific. After exploring ceramics and the abstraction of Outsider Art, Anna was inspired to finding new ways of making commentary through her art. 

She plans to return to the Rann of Kutch, India in 2019 to further her passion for making social commentary through craft.

Anna wished to acknowledge and thank The James Wallace Foundation and The Asia New Zealand Foundation for their generous support in helping to fund her residency in Varanasi.

Work will be for sale – contact me if interested.


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