Updated: March 16, 2015 4:08:52 pm
In the middle of piles of fabric and balls of scattered yarn, a lissome blonde in a vibrant georgette sari walks across the room. The setting resembles a vandalised clothes store. A huddle of volunteers squatting among the debris of cloth, listens to her intently, as she demonstrates the interlocking technique for her craft. Polish crochet artist Olek does not like taking things slowly. “I come from a work culture which is very fast-paced, and for me, everything should have been done yesterday. But in places like India and Brazil, there is a different working ethic, which I would love to adapt to. But I don’t have time,” she says.
Now based in New York, Olek is in town for a special project – to “dress up” one of the women night shelters in Sarai Kale Khan with her crochet designs, as part of the second edition of St+Art festival.
Olek aka Agata Oleksiak has a reputation for crocheting anything, living or non-living. She once dressed up everything in her apartment – chairs, tables, curtains, the floor, and even a person. Besides, she has had a model dressed as a mermaid wearing a crochet outfit, Italian sculptor Arturo Di Modica’s sculpture of the Charging Bull on Manhattan’s Wall Street, and a locomotive in Lodz, Poland. “I like recreating things or changing them into something else. That adds life to it,” says Olek, 36, who has been working relentlessly at her studio in South Extension Part I, to install the design by Tuesday night.
The untitled crochet canvas for Sarai Kale Khan will be roughly 40 ft X 30ft, and will feature designs inspired by nature – such as butterflies, doilies, hearts and flowers. For this, she will be using up to nine kms of fabric (from shops in old Delhi, and discarded material from Tarun Tahiliani and Manish Arora’s stores), and some yarn.
Growing up in the socialist-era town of Selesia in south-west Poland, Olek was surrounded by statues of Stalin and other Soviet leaders. “It was a grey and industrial town. And after the break up of Soviet Union, these statues were torn down,” she says, recalling how she wanted to escape Poland as a teenager. So she took up an English language course before moving to the US in 2000. “I was able to start afresh in the US and escape the dark mood of my hometown,” she says.
After initially struggling to earn a living by mopping floors and working in factories, her dream took shape when she designed crochet outfits for a friend’s fashion show in New York. “A professor at the university (in Poland, where she was pursuing Cultural Studies) told me, ‘never tell anyone that you don’t have any experience’. That helped me greatly in the US. After my first show, people thought I was a big fashion designer from Poland with a huge portfolio,” says Olek, who is a self taught crochet artiste. It is the same confidence and spirit that she aims to transfer into her designs by employing women volunteers from lower economic sections and teaching them crochet work.
For her current project, she has employed more than a dozen craftswomen from a Noida organisation and college volunteers to assemble the piece. In 2013, at the Kadowice prison in Poland, she took the help of prisoners to create and install a 65-ft canvas titled “Kiss the Future” on one of the jail walls. Olek will combine the prison canvas with her night shelter work. “That is the only way to complete the project in time,” she says, with a smile. Her 2010 installation of the Charging Bull on Wall Street was torn down within hours of being installed by a park attendant in Manhattan. Hoping to get some sort of reaction to her piece in Delhi, she says, “If somebody destroys my work, that will also be a reaction.”
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