21st Century Renaissance...by Orly Leaman

When an object has something more to say than how beautiful it is; we call it a work of art.

“The creation has become a vessel to communicate something beyond the sum of materials it was created from. That is how it elevates itself beyond an ordinary craft.”
Camal Pirbhai is not only Toronto’s up-and-coming Textile Artisan, he is locally famous for being the only one in North America, with a European education in couture hand sewing and the rare skill sets of fabricating custom hardware for most of his projects. And recently he is made quite splash at the Toronto Interior Design show; with an impactful textile sculpture, entitled Ebony Pope. The exhibit was an eight foot tall mannequin, with two outstretched arms, wearing nothing but open robe, with painted peau de soie silk, black velvet, embroidered metallic mesh, pleating, and sentient lighting that was woven into the fabric that neatly draped over each outstretched arm.


While this edgy sculpture inspired some interesting discussions, the buzz had little to do with the religious iconography.
When questioned, Pirbhai mentioned that he appreciated the impact and responses to his work. “The reactions to my art are every bit as important as the actual exhibit itself. Without the reactive and interactive component, I feel like what I’ve created is incomplete.”   And the public certainly reacted. Comments ranged from “the mesmerizing result pulses with inner life” to “at first I was shocked by the visual, yet I found myself wanting more.”
And while there were those who took offence, Pirbhai’s didn`t seem to enjoy what on-lookers were saying.  “I don’t care if the critics hate what I’ve done.  As long as my textiles are being judged by the same critical standards as a painting, a dance or a musical composition; they’ve given me my due respect.”  And his wish was definitely granted.
People drew parallels between Pirbhai’s sculpture and Andy Warhol’s legendary Campbell Soup display.  Some considered his sculpture to be a shrewd, self-promotion ploy to distract the public from his true master piece; achieving fame. Others felt that as a haute couture designer he was in direct opposition to Warhol’s non-judgemental stance towards mass production and popular culture? 
Although Pirbhai attested that Warhol was by no means a catalyst for this exhibit, he did note that he found Warhol “interesting because he brought the process of promotion and public relations to the level of an art. Prior to that, it was never perceived that way. That was his artistic contribution. I respect how he expanded the definition of beauty and art.”
And while some on-lookers thought that Ebony Pope was a black religious icon, Pirbhai admitted that it was never his intention to make commentary about race. None-the-less, he loved the interpretation and but truly enjoyed how “people have pre-conceived notions on everything. And I like playing with those ideas. I strive to challenge people and their imaginations. The theme is all about the intangible things we inherit that influence how we interpret our experiences. Intention to me is irrelevant.
 “The creation has become a vessel to communicate something beyond the sum of materials it was created from. That is how it elevates itself beyond an ordinary craft.”
And that’s what I’m looking for. As an artist, the materials I use happen to be textiles. It is the medium I choose to communicate all my concepts, messages and ideas through.  My art is never just original fabrication in vein. It has to mean something special.”


And while there are no correct or incorrect interpretations about what his exhibit means, there are several facts about this Pirbhai that are definitively clear.
Number one, No machine can do what Pirbhai has been trained and qualified create by hand.   Machinery is never involved in anything he fabricates.  It is forbidden. Number two, he never creates anything twice. Originality is sacred and he is clear when he states that he is` `always up for the challenge of “re-inventing my own profession; evolving it to keep the art form alive. `` 
Law of Fabrication

There are certain principles Pirbhai calls the laws of his fabrication. And he lays them all out succinctly in a few sentences. “My textiles should be just as expressive as watching a ballet or a listening to a piece of music. `` And I promise each client to use my craft in a manner that encapsulates the: identity, mood, culture, values, personality or that they are seeking. `` Everyone is unique so nothing I create is ever the same. It makes more sense if you look at it this way.  “The difference between original and unoriginal is the decision that a singer makes to sing a song they have composed themselves or someone else’s. I for one am not interested in the Karaoke approach to fabrication. I`m quite sure that my clients don`t want to see their personality in someone else`s home.” 

According to Camal, the greatest challenge that Textile Artisans are facing today, is to overcome the ambivalence people have towards mass consumerism. Mass production “is producing lazy, alienated artisans who are disconnected from their passion, and the materials they work with. They have lost their drive to communicate something special”.
With commissioners who are patrons of the arts that support free thinking, inventiveness and individual expression. Pirbhai takes pride in showcasing the uniqueness of their homes and buildings. “There isn’t anything that isn’t made by or touched by my hands, regardless of whether I`m designing drapery that is minimalist and modern or traditional and formal. When you walk into a home where [his] work is displayed, you can intuitively appreciate how the owner relates to the world; without even meeting them.”


One point Camal really drives home is that it takes artistic integrity to make the world painfully self-aware of how closed minded they have been in the present. And he cautions us to listen carefully to artists who found beauty in places the world never knew beauty and artistry could exist in.

When asked about which artists had inspired Pirbhai, he mentioned that works of Chef Ferranti Adria of El Bulli, because he prepared entrées that allowed people to experiences tastes beyond sweet, sour, bitter, spicy and hot.
It made [Pirbhai] question the point mainstream society dictated that certain possibilities were utterly inconceivable.”

From Anna Pavlova [he] learned that  beauty is a subjective experience, by showing ballet critiques that the daintiness and vulnerability of her tall, slender, long limbed figure was enchanting in a different way than her contemporaries; during a period when the industry standard  praised the acrobatics of ballerinas with: small, strong, stalky, muscular, compact bodies. 

And early impressionists like Monet and Manet taught [Pirbhai] the dangers of relying on technologies (like the camera) in the context of art.  After all, art is not only about accuracy. It’s also a vessel for original self-expression. ``


Pirbhai’s clients’ are acutely aware, that the space they occupy is a reflection of their true: identity, ideas, styles, culture, and favourite period in history, personality and values. To them, quality textiles are one of the many mediums they used to celebrate and showcase these aspects about themselves. And Camal understands that "weather the client’s predilection is modern and minimal or formal and ornate; there is something original to say in every genre, through fabrication.”  And with that, he ended the interview with a question. “What type of conversation would [my] own space inspire?” 

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