VIVIAN KRISHNAN | Masi in Nature

Masi in Nature: A Resilient Textile Installation 

Masi, or bark cloth, is a strong and durable textile that comes from Fiji and other island nations in the south pacific. It is created by harvesting young mulberry trees and stripping away the outer skin. With the strength of the community, masi is pounded by women on wooden logs until the fibers and starches form a smooth, paper like cloth.

The art of making masi and inked motifs are underrepresented in the Textile Art community. Stories are told through this craft and personal motifs form from those stories and experiences. Personal motif, storytelling, and masi have been tools I’ve used to find a recently new voice as a mixed-race artist raised in the pacific but living in the Midwest. By creating personal tapa (masi with ink patterns), I’ve been able to express my appreciation for both my South Indian background, the impact the Fijian culture has had on the generations before me, as well as my confusing love for the delicate, feminine artifacts from my white mother. Creating something new gives space for blending the worlds that I care so deeply about.

Often masi will cover entire walls leaving no surface bare of mesmerizing patterns. Traditionally, these patterns reflect the environment with detailed symbols. Researching symbols and motifs is something that must be approached delicately. My work blends the woodblock patterns of my Tamil ancestry with islander influences from Fiji and my birth place, Hawai’i. There is so much beauty that comes from island nations and it has influenced the way I incorporate design elements, textures, and style.

Masi in Nature is a large textile installation project that breathes with the air around it. Although bark cloth is durable and strong, paperlike fabric will not withstand six months outside. Therefore I created this large masi using recycled plastics fused together in layers to create a tarp like material. This technique is something I’ve used with wearable art and recycled fashion but this takes it a step further. Incorporating environmentally friendly practices in art such as repurposing and recycling, reflect the values I cherish about the Champaign- Urbana community. Together we take steps to further our education in how we can care for our earth. The south pacific and oceania might seem like a world away from central Illinois, but we share this planet and its oceans.

With this project I hope to inspire others to gain familiarity with the art of masi while also highlighting the beauty in creating art that is environmentally conscious. Similar mark making techniques have been used but rather than inking motifs with stencils, shapes and linework will be applique and reverse-applique. The large scale lace-like cutwork shapes allow for air to pass through. The color palette of traditional masi is limited to white, black, and burnt sienna. These colors are frequently found in recycled plastic grocery bags.

Sharing this installation piece with the CU community (whether part of the Pacific Islander community or not) is a humbling experience.

For more about Vivian's work go to:

LOCATION: Chief Shemauger Park | Urbana