We had the good fortune of connecting with Ruby Chishti and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Ruby, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
The loss of my older brother at a young age became a catalyst for my pursuit of art career. His kind disposition and love for nature and most of all his role as a mentor to me while I was in my teens had a profound influence on me. He introduced me to books that opened up my imagination. When he left us he was only 27. This tragedy impacted me so deeply that I was unable to find peace anywhere. It was impossible to come out of this grief, I could only wish for something that might take away my thoughts from this tragedy…. perhaps an intense creative activity. Such a void led me to join an art college to get fully involve in art making and potential healing eventually.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My lifelong fascination with the tenacious and fragile nature of our own existence has inspired me to reinvent sculptural forms through a variety of materials that forge an intrinsic impression of the collective human experience of love, loss and being human. My work explores gender disparities as a lived experience. My core focus is the personal and societal narratives that initiate conversation about the persistence of passage, from environments to communities, while emphasizing the challenge of survival in hostile socio-ecological climates.

The creative process highlights the intangible, emotional value I see in discarded clothing; each piece holds a vast context …of and a witness of lives ripped and rebuilt. Recycling is central to my art practice which is quite similar to what is evident in nature all around us.
I hand-sew thousands of layers of recycled textiles of unknown people into sprawling architectural forms, treating each scrap of fabric with the same meticulous care and sensitivity I would have offered the humans who once wore them. It is through this perspective that I explore the universal, intertwining relationship between the tangible and the abstract.

Thousands of stitches incorporating the layers of folded cloth of unknown people appear like sediments in the earth, and how each sediment is a physical marker of time, a witness to lives ripped and rebuilt.

Sewing with hands is a practice I learnt as a little girl to make my dolls with discarded clothing, or attach the pockets and belts of fabric to make my own clothing stylish as I did not want to wear the generic clothing. My comfort with fabric grew and I continued to stitch my own clothes most of my life. I was trained as a sculptor in a western classical manner, working with clay, metal, wood plaster etc. But I never worked with fabric while I was studying in Art institute in Lahore, Pakistan. It was in 1999 while I was a caregiver for my mother for a decade who was paralyzed in an accident. During those years I started to feel a connection between her gradual deterioration and the castoffs,  and  other scraps of fabric that I had collected over the years. start to hand sew sculptural forms by her bedside while she would sleep. The discovery lies in exploring the material, it’s possibilities as well as limitations; this is where the dialogue starts.
Last year when the pandemic started to spread and the need to wear mask became intense, I found such use of cloth and realized how only a few stands of fiber can actually save our lives.

Besides the universal & aesthetic appeal I want my work to transcend and evoke empathy. My recent work provides an urgent template for conversation with the passage, persistence and survival of time, my re-figured garments condensed figuration embody the touch of proximity and togetherness while challenging the heroics of masculinity and confidence of patriarchy.

The clothing is transformed into small architectural spaces perhaps livable to a child’s imagination. Whether mass produced discarded clothing or fallen twigs, it all persuades me to explore the potential of such medium expressing trauma of displacement to the joys of settlement to ongoing struggles of migration and identity.

By incorporating my own personal iconography the profusion of these miniaturized forms solicit something of the creativity,
these female figures are rendered with scraps of their own ceremonial clothing, sometimes tied with thread or sewn either celebrating their existence or hugging each other . I depict the immensity of time that evoke thoughts about people’s relationships to places, creating parallels of historical resonance.

—Predetermined and set rules to an achievement makes me uncomfortable, I don’t get discouraged by either length or the complicated route of practice; can keep going without expectation of any rewards or awards because this is what I will have to continue exploring anyway.
—–I am proud and own the decisions I made.
—–I get excited about the surprises along the way and of course the unfamiliarity of path and unexpected result excites me.
——I don’t agree with defining easy or difficult the way we are told, For me easy is what interests me . when my heart is in it no matter how popular it might be ‘difficult’ in my vocabulary because heart is not in it like any great food

_____my success…. I would say some clarity of vision and Persistence.
Apparent difficulties seems easy if I plunge into the rest is exploration and joy
Always listen to your heart and not what other people say is good for you. Learn to know yourself with the same passion as you learn about the world and external realities. You can do it by staying connected to yourself.
___I believe challenges make you grow and makes you connect more deeply with people whom you might not even know.
___I want the world to know just that “Two hands and one stitch at a time.”

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Whew, when it comes to food I am a huge disappointment cuz I myself eat limited things:) and keep changing my beliefs according to the food:)

Lets start from bushwick industrial looking neighborhood, you feel as if the soul of city is communicating to you when you see this amazing street art. This neighborhood, creative, friendly, diverse seems bending the boundaries of gender.
I would take my friend to some sustainable shops selling old clothing, including the L Train Vintage.
Walk or cycle on Brooklyn bridge
Roberta’s pizza one of the iconic pizzerias in Bushwick
Sunday Flea market in Williamsburg
Ice cream factory DUMBO
Radegast hall & biergarten German bar with live music in Williamsburg
Ferry from Williamsburg to 36 Manhattan
NY bagel Long Island city Roosevelt island
Smorgasburg weekly open-air food market in Brooklyn
Crossing the bridge to Roosevelt island walking by the river under queen borough bridge
Lunch at The cafe at Cornell tech from salads to soups and sandwiches.
Taking the aerial tram to upper Eastside of Manhattan.
Strand bookstore Greenwich
Sweatshop in Williamsburg their version of avocado toast with herb oil, citrus, chili flakes
Walking on High line park (Converted train track Manhattan) encountering some unexpected sculptures and installation.
Met Cloisters in Manhattan Medieval art
Met Museum
La pain qouotidien for coffee and pastries
Walk by the Hudson River
Wave hill gardens Bronx
Amazing burgers and spicy fries at BK jani that will take you on a trip to Lahore.
Chai Chenak Brunswick NJ
1717 artist studios For art immersion I will take her to the Metropolitan Museum
Taking a Chelsea market tour and Hudson yards.
Walk through little Italy and soho
Wafels & Dinges Waffle truck
Getting a tattoo at Bang Bang located on lower Eastside.
Not to miss experience the interesting architecture of Guggenheim Museum it’s spiral design makes you think as if designed by a child 🙂 who did not know how to build a regular building structure:)
I will cook some desi style vegetarian dishes with Indian/Pakistani spices with freshly made multigrain paratha, all made by me:)
And lastly hanging out out at our Castlebraid rooftop and rocking on bikes and other recycled objects.
Sitting at the crow’s nest enjoying 360 views of the NYC

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are so many art professionals, galleries and Museums that supported my work and believed in me. My soul will always be grateful to my late brother Mustehsan Farooq who lived for only 27 years but he has been the biggest influence on who I am today as an artist. My mentor Salima Hashmi, an educator an artist and author who was the first to appreciate when I started working in cloth, who always encouraged me to keep pushing the boundaries of the medium. Jaishri Abhichandani the founder of South Asian Women Creative Collective, a powerful feminist voice, an artist, activist and a curator who provided me the opportunities to present my work at many prestigious venues in NYC and abroad. I am grateful to Tim Murray who discovered my work at Asia Society Museum and excellently contextualize my art practice.

Website: https://www.rubychishti.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rubychishti2019

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ruby.chishti

Image Credits
Aicon Contemporary Fiber Science and apparel design Department Cornell University Ithaca

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