The Unpaved, Crusty, Earthy Road

Nelly Sethna: A Retrospective

Curated by: Nancy Adajania

This first-ever retrospective of Nelly Sethna (1932-1992) contextualises this all-but-forgotten fibre artist’s versatile and experimental practice: as a weaver, textile designer, researcher and crafts activist.

We present Sethna as a transcultural practitioner, a participant in the global legacy of Nordic modernism through her apprenticeship with Marianne Strengell at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, as well as an inheritor of the ecumenical world-view of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay in India, which embraced both the traditional and modern arts.

A research-driven exhibition, this retrospective gathers and interprets the empirical evidence to propose a radical model of Sethna’s more than three-decade-long career as comprising several phases, culminating in the expanded, collaborative practice designated here as the ‘Nelly Sethna studio’. It acknowledges the role played by Nelly’s various collaborators at different times in her career – among them Roda Gazdar, Jerbai Shaw, Bhanu, Chandrabhaga, Mansingh, as well as her devoted husband Homi Sethna and her chief associate and soul sister Roshan Mullan – thus illuminating the distinctive stylistic and conceptual strands in her art.

We include never-before-seen archival material that maps her exhibition itinerary from the 1960s to the early 1990s; her research trips to Iran and Kutch; and rare documentation of her fibre mobiles, draperies and room dividers from the 1960s, and her ambitious corporate commissions from the 1970s.

A majority of the exhibits are drawn from the Jamshyd & Pheroza Godrej Collection. Dr. Pheroza J. Godrej has long collected outside the sanctified norms of modernist painting, championing the works of textile artists, ceramicists and subaltern artists.

The title of the show is a quote from Nelly, who believed that nature was the perennial guide to design. In her own practice, she always chose the unpaved road, to be shaped by walking, and never the road already paved by custom and habit.

(Text by Nancy Adajania)

Preview: September 1, 2021
6pm to 8pm

On view till: October 30, 2021

Gallery hours
Tuesday to Saturday | 11 am – 7 pm



Walkthrough at Chatterjee & Lal