Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends

Robert Rauschenberg. Gull (Jammer). 1976 8220

Sewn fabric, rattan poles, and twine, 103 x 200 x 19" (261.6 x 508 x 48.3 cm). Gift of Robert Rauschenberg Foundation; and gift of Virginia C. Field, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Nelson Pharr, anonymous, and Ruth Vollmer (all by exchange). © 2022 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

Leah Dickerman: In 1975, Rauschenberg went to Ahmedabad, India at the invitation of the Serabhais, who were a wealthy, cultured family. Rauschenberg operated in India in a way that was like he did in any neighborhood, where he gathered material around him. And he was struck by the sheer beauty and sensuality of the silk fabrics that he saw.

The way that Rauschenberg chose to work with these silk fabrics was not to do very much to them at all. He doesn’t really alter the fabric. He drapes it so that it can continue to be loose and to billow, to shimmer, as light hits it.

Fashion designer Asha Sarabhai was with Rauschenberg when he purchased this fabric in India.

Asha Sarabhai: The Khadi shops, which is where we went with Bob, were shops that came about post-independence, after Gandhi had died. But Gandhi was very instrumental in making the whole Khadi movement a nationwide practice.

Leah Dickerman: Khadi refers to hand-woven, hand-spun fabrics which Ghandi believed were the backbone of India, a way to reestablish India’s presence in the textile industry, which the British had undermined.

Asha Sarabhai: People put together the most extraordinary combinations of print and plain, and I’m sure that was something that struck Bob as well, because it’s a very powerful visual image, that in spite of often really dire poverty, people still look extraordinary.

Leah Dickerman: And it was a kind of extraordinary beauty, a luxury that he hadn't really allowed himself, personally. He was even made uncomfortable by this display of beauty. I think he resisted the idea that art should be pretty, as many New York intellectuals did.

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