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 African Indian identity, culture, and trauma. Of the work, she says, “My work is about forging a sense of community and healing particularly 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 the 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 African Indian woman. 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 woman. 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, women 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 immortalizing these memories in tapestries.” She chooses her colors 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 color.
Ramkilawan is a part of the Kutti Collective who is a group of South African Indian 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 our 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.”