Handmade: Fiber artist weaves rich culture into work

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News
This is a mixed-media wall piece that incorporates Boisaili's weaving and hand-dyed fabrics.

There are wall hangings made with fabric that has been manipulated and embellished. Then there are more intricate pieces of fiber art, created using a range of techniques, that are displayed on the wall as fine works of art.

The latter defines the quality of work produced by mixed media fiber artist Boisali Biswas of West Bloomfield. She describes her work, which is heavily influenced by Indian art, as "much more pictorial and detailed" than pieces commonly referred to as a wall hanging, a term she feels "sounds more crafty."

"I use weaving as my medium of art, and I also like surface design, so I do mixed media art in the sense that I mix my manipulation of fabric with printing, dying and embellishing. I mix that with weaving, so my work is a combination of weaving and surface design." 

Most of her weaving is done with natural fibers -- like cotton and silk, but she also paints on paper and cuts it into strips that she then weaves and sometimes adorns with yarn, calling them "painted weavings."  

Biswas said she loves to weave because of the textures and tactile quality of the fabrics she produces. "I love to work with different materials and experiment with them. I don't weave complex cloth because I'm not weaving traditional fabrics. I weave mainly for the wall. I use my weaving as my art medium, so it's not complex weaving, like what people use to make shawls and things. My pieces are more one-of-a-kind. I don't have a pre-conceived idea of what I'm going to weave. I create as I weave. (And) being from India, my roots, tradition and culture are reflected in my work a lot."

A weaving instructor at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center (BBAC), Biswas left her native India 27 years ago when she and her husband (Arunava) moved to Columbus, OH. Having done her undergraduate work in India as a textiles major at Visva-Bharti International University, she earned a masters degree in fiber arts at Bowling Green State University in 1994, while Arunava did his graduate studies in mechanical engineering.  

Biswas works in her home-based studio almost daily, and when she's not weaving or creating "multi-cultural assemblages," she's busy screen and block printing on fabric. 

While most of her artwork is made for displaying on the wall, she sometimes weaves and buys fabric to make garments for her personal wardrobe and that of her daughter's (Esha).

"I usually get fabric from India, and I create my own fabrics. I sewed my daughter's prom dress, and dyed and embellished the fabric myself. I love to make my own fabrics, that are woven and printed, but I do get a lot of fabric from India -- a lot of silk, cotton, embellished fabrics, printed, woven (etc.). You get such a variety of fabrics in India." She travels back to India about every year to two years to visit family, and while there, she shops for fabric.

Biswas has had her work featured in many juried, invitational and solo exhibitions. She's also received a number of awards. Most recently, she was among several well-known fiber artists (including quilter Carole Harris) who had their work featured, during the past four weeks, in the "Artists Who Stitch" exhibit at Detroit Artists Market. The show ended last weekend.

Biswas sells her unique and vibrant wall art for prices ranging from $80 to $3,500 each, depending on the size and detail of the piece. However, she said, "Like all artists, I don't think I make a lot of money from it. I teach weaving at the BBAC, but other than that, I am primarily a studio artist."

At BBAC, she usually has 8-9 students per 10 to 12-week session, and classes are held three hours every Monday and Wednesday. The skill level of students range from advanced to beginner. She said the degree of difficulty for learning to weave "depends on the individual person." Each student has their own floor loom which belongs to the center. She said, "Their projects are left on the loom so they can come during the open studio and work on them. This is not an academy program. It's more of a recreational type class."

As a a weaving instructor, Biswas believes weaving should be more than functional. She said, "I love to inspire people to be creative with their weaving, and make art. That was my inspiration for teaching."

Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, jbrown@detroitnews.com or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.

Contact Boisali Biswas at www.boisalibiswas.com.