Boteh: Cacti, 2022

Watercolor on paper
23 x 30 cm | 9.06 x 11.81 in

When I search my mind for distant memories, elusive, foggy, on the tip of my tongue, I see yards and yards of silk with boteh. The fabrics are opened by human hands, sometimes lovingly, at other times flung wide across the room. I can no longer tell my individual memories apart, they superimpose, retaining a central integrity but moving around the outlines. I find this happens often with things I experience many times in my life. It is hard to tell apart the different times I have washed my hair. But in that moment, washing my hair, watching fabrics, I feel as if all the other moments of hair-washing-fabric-watching are connected. I can no longer tell one moment apart from the other, am I cheating time?

There’s joy in repetition.

Boteh are the drop-shaped motifs found scattered through saris, scarves, pashminas and rugs across the Subcontinent, Persia, Afghanistan, Iran and much of asia. The boteh morph, from dot to teardrop, raindrop, leaf, mango, parrot, tree, all retaining some degree of relation. It is important to note that Boteh are repeated many times throughout a textile, although the rules of their arrangement can vary.

Variation. Iteration.

Motif predated the emoji. Something that is repeated so often it ceases to have meaning, and at the same time takes on a meaning greater than itself.

Coming to America, from India, a series of meditations led to new Boteh for my new home-land. I have seen so few cacti in the wild. Perhaps only on Isla del Sol on lake Titikaka, maybe Nevada? I realise that although I saw them, I remember only the impression, not the exact form. At times I felt like a medieval painter trying to depict an elephant they have never seen. I like the feeling. Perhaps the only luxury left is discovery.  

It strikes me how much painting feels like swimming.

I say good morning to my plants every day and watch for growth, no change for a week and then suddenly a new leaf overnight. How is it that we do not see slow growth in increments, only in sudden realisations? Recently I've been propagating my citronella geranium. It never ceases to amaze me that a whole new plant can grow from a cut branch.

Polyps. The word keeps popping into my mind. Ah yes coral polyps, David Attenborough, Sundays with grandma.

A cactus is one step down from a rose in iconic value but far more perceptible by outline alone. How much can I vary the cactus before it ceases to be a cactus? What is the platonic ideal of a cactus?