I’ve always enjoyed autumn, a feeling of things being gathered in and then a time for deep mulling over and consideration going on deep within, while on the surface there are lots of new learning opportunities available. I used to really enjoy looking through the adult education classes and workshop lists, and seeing if anything appealed – mind candy 😉

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Anyway, so here I find myself, at the turning of the season, wondering how I can make some abundance… I have been reading more again, the Threads of Empire curator arranged some Amazon vouchers as a reward for us artists which was really kind, and set off a buying spree on my part!

I really recommend going to see 1745 – a short film:

When two young black slaves escape into the wilds of 18th century Scotland, they must use all of their courage and strength to survive, unite, and stay free.

1745 highlights a forgotten part of Scotland’s history: while Scotland was fighting for its national freedom in that fateful year, its economy was in large part founded on the booming colonial slave trade. While the majority of slavery happened elsewhere – off-stage, across the Atlantic – there were African slaves here, kept as trophies and pets in the houses of their rich merchant masters. “1745” was inspired by advertisements that writer, Morayo Akandé, discovered for runaway slaves, placed in Scottish newspapers of the time.

 

{see https://www.1745film.com/synopsis}

for me, this sparked an interest in Scotland’s uprising in favour of the last Stuart, and the slavery that was funding the Scottish economy at the time… people wanting religious freedom but not giving freedom to people stolen from their homelands. I grew up with a granny telling me never to bring the flowers known in England as Sweet Williams in the house – as a Mackenzie/ Robson/ Black they were considered bad luck and an insult, and known as Stinking Billies. They are named for William, the Butcher of Culloden who massacred thousands in his Scottish campaigns, including civilians, children and old folk. The 9 of Diamonds is also the Curse of Scotland – though there are many ‘explanations’, a common one is

Anyway, suffice it to say I really, really recommend seeing the film, it’s only a short, maybe 11 minutes, but they make them count. Just seeing the sisters running through the rain [ filming must have been horrible!] I realised with a jolt that I had never seen an eighteenth century tartan dress on a woman of colour. The textile/costume historian in me was fascinated…

And that sparked reading Philippa Gregory’s ‘A Respectable Trade’ where a white woman trains a small group of slaves, but [minimising the spoilers] feels so attached to one of them, that she is terribly reluctant to give him his freedom, because without that power over him, she will lose the connection that has made life worth living for her. An even better read was ‘Joseph Knight’ by James Robertson [https://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/jun/07/fiction.alismith]

which was so well written. It starts with a young lad being ordered to run away before the massacre at Glencoe by his father, who is later hung, drawn and quartered by the Hanoverian King for treason, watched by his younger brother. The difference between the brothers in how they treated the slaves on their plantation is apparently based on family history and records and means you start with sympathy but end with horrified confusion at how this plays out. A lot of trauma in there, and the way Joseph Knight is almost unknowable because he was snatched as a toddler and has very few memories of himself before slavery, and has been shaped by that into a mask protecting a core of iron is very convincing. I found the ending, where his family are accepted by the recently freed colliers of the West Coast of Scotland very moving.

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I found the new making ideas that arose from watching 1745 made me want to push on and finish the two pieces I have been working on. The freeform aqua and sand piece I am making as a companion piece to Organic Process is now being attached to a lampshade armature someone gave me and is looking very underwater/coral/barnacle crusted, so I am pleased. The Tangled Freedoms piece [from Threads of Empire] has returned and l have plans to extend it, with embroidery I have been making from lace, ribbon and fabrics, and a short quote on the decay of empires that Onni used in the exhibition. Poor Cherise will be back to pinning things on the floor again!

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Doing the research for Tangled Threads reminded me that although I finally understood the waves of the French Revolution by reading Marge Piercy’s ‘City of Darkness, City of Light’ I had never understood Napoleon’s coup d’etat and the disintegration of the revolution that followed. I still don’t understand all the implications by far, but reading ‘Desiree’ by AnneMarie Selinko made me understand a lot more. I find reading a novel helps me remember the sequences of events better. Both Marge Piercy and Annemarie Selinko create understandable versions of historical people, giving them intuited backstories that make sense, whereas some of the historical analysis I’ve seen of Claire Lacombe and Desidera, Queen of the Swedes has been insultingly disrespectful, assuming they are just ‘flighty’ women responding to whatever impulse of the moment occurs, grrr..

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So I think my new interest/pursuit for this autumn is to be catching up on history. My mobility and spoons are very limited at the moment, but the wonderful internet is there to explore – with a shovel of salt handy on some sites, of course! Being still, in my own place, but peeking through time and space to other lives… and being inspired to make of course, it all comes back out through my hands…

 

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