Talia Ramkilawan

Talia Ramkilawan was born in Cape Town in 1996 and was raised by a single mother in Nelspruit and later Pretoria. Upon returning to Cape Town in 2015 she studied at Michaelis School of Fine Art, majoring in sculpture. Ramkilawan’s work aims to address her own lived experience with South Asian identity, culture and trauma. She uses mixed media in order to visualise the complexity of one’s relationship to trauma using various mediums including tapestry, video, performance and installation.

During Ramkilawan’s adolescence she hadn’t considered pursuing arts, but a positive encounter with an English teacher encouraged her to open up to a more creative path. Although her decision to study art was not well-received by the majority of her family, her mother was a supporting force. The discovery of rug-hooking in her fourth year of university was a breakthrough moment. She immersed herself in this craft and through this medium she was able to create an intimacy and honesty that felt refreshing. She says, “I originally wanted to make very traditional tapestries with a loom, while researching I came across a video on YouTube of someone making a carpet. The technique was called rug-hooking and done with a punch needle. I adapted the technique using a crochet needle, wool and by stretching hessian over a wooden frame. It really was something I had never done before and I am still learning every time I start a new piece - how big can I go, how detailed, what materials I can use. I start with some intention in mind but by the end they often become something entirely different.”

Ramkilawan describes the process of making these textiles as a process of healing. She says she wants the work to help the audience “feel empowered, to be held and that they can be felt simultaneously.” Her work is inspired by her own family dynamics and her own experience with South Asian identity, culture and trauma. Of the work she says, “My work is about forging a sense of community and healing particular in relation to being from the current generation whilst trying to connect to those who have come before. My work deals with subverting the image of family trauma in relation to my own family and me by healing through making and by creating a presence. I have placed an emphasis on community and the ‘Indian experience’, which is so important in cultural and art production that helps disrupt the linear narrative, exposing how trauma of the past resonates in the present.”

In her more recent practice she has started looking at the everyday experiences as a contemporary South Asian womxn. She describes her work as being an extension of herself. She says, “they are vessels for dealing with all my traumas, anxieties old or new, as well as the good stuff, they are also a visual celebration of who I am. So inadvertently they are all self-portraits. But by putting my own face and my own life on the tapestries the intimacy of dealing with those traumas and anxieties are a lot more real and there for everyone to see.”

Her work also explores the intersections and binaries of her lived experience as a queer Indian womxn. Of this she says, “Indian, yet not Indian enough, a daughter, a friend, queer, brown, tired yet so much more to give. Why I make the work is to think, to understand. I have to make things to fully comprehend them.” She also adds, “I’ve never felt the need to wear my queerness on my sleeve, if I know who I am it doesn’t matter if anyone else knows or not. I will forever be evolving and therefore so will my queerness and recently I have been using my work to channel that.”

Her work allows her to process good and bad experiences, and she plans to carry on in this way. Her work is inspired by a myriad of sources including friends, family, Instagram etc. She says, “sometimes I pull a favourite book off the shelf when the mood hits me and read a chapter at random. Each image is chosen with care, I slow down between works, trying to find the right fit. In the beginning a lot of the imagery came from my own imagination, womxn I would just conjure into existence. As my work developed, I looked for inspiration and photographs from when I was growing up or friends. Recently I have been moving more towards depicting contemporary scenes and people, I like the idea of immortalising these memories in tapestries.” She chooses her colours based on what she feels will look good together in the process of making them. Sometimes she will finish the figure before deciding on the background colour.

Ramkilawan is a part of the Kutti Collective who are a group of South Asian artists who support each other and help each other make sense of the ‘Indian experience’. She says, “The collective formed as a mutual feeling of displacement, beyond just the art world. Its strength is that the collective is our space, our representation, our empowerment and community. These struggles brought us together, but the collective is not defined by our shared trauma, but rather our creative determination and support of each other despite it. We as individuals and as a whole are the strength.”

2019 Currently completing postgrad in Education
2018 Graduated from Michaelis School of Fine Art, majored in Sculpture
2014 Matriculated from Willowridge High School, Pretoria

Solo Exhibitions
2020 Upcoming solo exhibition, SMITH, Cape Town

Group Exhibitions
2019 Rendezvous II, SMITH, Cape Town
2019 The Female Line, SMAC, Cape Town
2019 Emphatic Whispers, SMITH, Cape Town
2018 Michaelis Graduate Exhibition
2018 Heavenly Bodies Group Show, 34 Kloof Street, Cape Town. Curated by Jade Cheyenne.
2017 Mothers, Money, Manuscripts and Minutes, SMAC Gallery, Cape Town. Curated by Thuli Gamedze.

Art Fairs
2020 Investec Cape Town Art Fair, SMITH
2019 FNB Art Joburg, SMITH
2019 Investec Cape Town Art Fair, presented by SMITH

Panel Discussions

2018 2018 Here’s the Tea, Panel discussion about the current state of feminism and inclusivity. Hosted by Boni Mnisi, Tyra Naidoo and Githan Copoo.


2020 Talia Ramkilawan’s tapestries: When making is its own medicine https://mg.co.za/friday/2020-06-04-talia-ramkilawans-tapestries-when-mak...

2019 ARTISTS WE LOVE: TALIA RAMKILAWAN https://visi.co.za/artists-we-love-talia-ramkilawan/

2018 Chronicles of Resilience and Grrrl Power by Dope Saint Jude. Available at Available at https://bubblegumclub.co.za/music/dope-saint-jude-chronicles-of-resilien...

2017 The Cultural Significance of self-publishing. Bubblegum Club. Available at https://bubblegumclub.co.za/art-and-culture/zine-not-zine-cultural-signi...

2017 This Is What Makes Us Girls zine. Curated by Boni Mnisi. Available at https://issuu.com/whatmakesusgirlszine/docs/_28copy_29_20this_20is_20wha...

2017 The Intersectional feminist zine fighting patriarchy. Between 10 and 5. Available at https://10and5.com/2017/12/12/this-is-what-makes-us-girls-the-intersecti...

2017 This New Feminist Zine is All We Need Right Now. Marie Claire. Available at http://www.marieclaire.co.za/latest-news/feminist-zine