Anna Crichton is best-known as a cartoonist and illustrator, drawing whimsical pictures for children's books and tongue-in-cheek cartoons for magazines and newspapers, including the New Zealand Herald.

But Crichton clearly believes variety is the spice of life.

In recent years, the multi-award-winning cartoonist has turned her hand to ceramics — and made it to the finals of the Portage Ceramic Awards. Now, she's pioneering ways to tell stories using beads, embroidery and wood-blocking carving.

She is at the centre of a new sensory and artistic experiment.


For the first time, the TSB Wallace Arts Centre hosts a dinner themed to complement one of the many art exhibitions at the Pah Homestead. Event co-ordinator Jan Gardner chose Crichton's exhibition, Ragpicker at 4am, to base an Indian street food banquet around for the annual Auckland Artweek.

Resident cook Sam Mannering will prepare dishes — bread, dhal and goat curry among them — to match textiles designed by Crichton and made by bead and thread embroiders and wood block carvers in Varanasi, India.

Ragpicker at 4am follows Crichton's 2017 travels to Varanasi on a three-month residency cofounded by the James Wallace Foundation and Asia New Zealand Foundation. She worked alongside local craftspeople to create abstract images which, at first glance, look delicate and elusive. Look harder, though, and tougher stories start to emerge.

Once she landed in India, Crichton says she could not ignore the struggles and tough stories of the rural and village poor: child marriage, female infanticide, forced sterilisation, the caste system. She was particularly keen to capture the voices of women.

Dalit - to split, to crack, to remain invisible 2017. Glass beads, hand loomed cotton, rickshaw canopy canvas. Photo / Michael Craig
Dalit - to split, to crack, to remain invisible 2017. Glass beads, hand loomed cotton, rickshaw canopy canvas. Photo / Michael Craig

"I wanted to make a political statement as I do through cartooning," she says. "I wasn't seeking to create 'poverty porn' but I could not get away from the environment I was in and some of the things I could see around me.

"Issues like child marriage — and I met girls who had been married at 13, even though marriage before 18 is supposedly against the law — and I heard about widows who are abandoned in Varanasi. There are some 30,000 to 40,000, just dumped by their families, who live in abject poverty."

Crichton spent hours sourcing the right beads, threads and cloth along with producing detailed paintings and overlays to be followed by embroiderers and carvers. Guided by these designs, they then hand stitched the beads and thread onto hand-loomed cloth.

Seeing the canvas canopies of rickshaws gave her the idea to mount each design onto a larger fabric backdrop so, using Google translate, Crichton started bartering with drivers for the material.


"I'm sure they thought I was quite mad! I'd see groups of drivers looking across to me and pointing at me!"

Works from Ragpicker at 4am are for sale.



Anna Crichton, Ragpicker at 4am Abstract Embroidery and Woodblock Carving in Varanasi, India.

Where & when:

Pah Homestead, until Sunday, November 11.

The Dinner Crowd:

Varanasi Street Food is Thursday, part of Auckland Artweek. Bookings are required.