The Blue House

Solo Exhibition
23 March - 27 April 2024

Exhibition Opening: Saturday 23 March 2024
Exhibition Closure: Saturday 27 April 2024

WHATIFTHEWORLD is pleased to present The Blue House, a solo exhibition by Alka Dass.

The Blue House invites us into a world of works that continue an ongoing dialogue with and playful querying of family photographs, personal archives, objects and ephemera. Alka Dass brings us into textures of the intimate and mundane, scripted and performative, sacred and profane, of everyday image-making – and how these allow her to reconsider, reconstruct, remember and suture people, place, memory, history, time and desire in ways that move outside of dominant discourses and archival logics, opening space for a sensing and perceiving that is active and unruly.

Dass’ starting point is always the personal and experiential: her own multi-generational archives, the stories they tell, the people, places and times they belong to, in intimate and ludic relationship to the handmade and slightly unpredictable nature of cyanotype – its sensitivity to light, moisture, material and environment. The artist’s works are sutured with the whimsical, symbolic, patterned needlework of embroidery on canvas, offering compositions that bleed and layer, speak and sound, touch and haunt – disrupting the photographic frame and its logocentric assumptions.

Steeped in colour, viscosity and the vibrancy and vulgarity of blues interrupted and caressed by pinks and reds – the chromatic disquiet of Dass’ tapestries dazzle and distend in an ecosystem of her creation. As Tina Campt writes, family photographs, portraits, identity photos and snapshots of everyday life are submerged in the affective, symbolic and embodied economies of their creation, circulation, exchange and storage. Family photographs are felt, heard and bear upon us in myriad ways, and their existence exceed the origins of their creation; they are, furthermore, meaningful not only in their singularity and uniqueness, but also in their plurality, as they relate to and are entangled within a broader set of visualities and representational politics.

Jordan Nassar writes of Palestinian embroidery that it offers “[geometry], superstition and magic, social cues, family and village associations, embellishment and more.” Building on Nassar’s view of the worlds contained within the stitched form, Dass’ layered compositions offer prosthesis – artificial limbs or parts that help the images walk, sound, move, outside of enclosures. Other times, the threads conjure symbol, gesture, detail, citation or translation in ways that elevate the subjects, that refuse forms of surveillance and capture, offering instead masking, laughter and opacity as forms of knowing. With a rhythm constructed between image and its properties, the works formulate grammars and animacies for moving outside of hegemonic preservationist logics. Everyday photographs are reconfigured into tonalities, textures, saturations left behind by chemical solution and their traffic with the living world, traversed and mapped by thread, beadwork and lines of flight.

Scenes of love, joviality, celebration and desire are marked by repressed histories that refuse to disappear into the past, or to exist as background. Time instead is layered, with past, present and future bleeding into one another, like tea bags in water. Subjectivity, identity and place become maps transgressed and borders crossed, reconfiguring what we think we know. Dass’ works recall Anne Stoler’s notion of imperial ruination as structure and process – allowing us to consider accretion, decomposition, detritus, residues and ruins as active ways in which colonial and apartheid histories structure the present.

Layers of chemical solution, the imprint of sunlight on canvas, the haptic, gentle, incendiary and rhythmic forms of carving needle and thread into fabric, offer visual codes that speak to what lies outside of the frame, to the silences held within point and shoot imaginaries. The Blue House brings us into fugitive dreams and desires that reappear, repressed histories that return and rupture. Dass’ azure ecosystem destabilizes the dominant gnosis of the archive, towards the everyday and the familiar, masking and play, as alternative forms of care, knowledge and world-making.

Text by Nicole Sarmiento



Transdisciplinary textile artist Alka Dass (b. 1992) is a weaver of generational language. Based in Cape Town, South Africa, Dass’ practice is centred on the use of storytelling, embedded in a variety of mediums to address themes of trauma, memory, belonging, and migration. Dass is also one of the founding members of The Kutti Collective, which launched as a network of queer South Asian creatives across South Africa.

At the forefront of Dass’ artistic process is her family archive, explored through image-making techniques such as cyanotype photography, as well as found materials, bead stringing, embroidery, and needlework, which are often stereotypically categorized as elements of feminine pastime. Additionally, Dass introduces a sense of whimsy and playfulness as she weaves through the fabric of her canvases, transforming her Prussian blue images into symbolic tapestries that reveal traces of her generational memory. Threading through the quiet and quotidian, Dass’ intimate tapestries present snapshots of forgotten memories that tap into the realm of the mythical. Her symbolic gestures of needlework and beading techniques further unlock the secrets of her subconscious, as passed down from her lineage and generational experience with textile art.

Select group shows, solo exhibitions, and collaborations include The Million Petaled Flower Of When You Were Here(2024) at Church Gallery in Cape Town, (Be)longing (2024) at Investec Cape Town Art Fair, Fever, Returns (2022) at Kalashnikovv Gallery in Johannesburg, Emphatic Whispers (2019) at Smith Studio, and at the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in New York (2018). Dass graduated from the Durban University of Technology in KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, and was also the recipient of The Young Female Residency Award in 2017.