Posts tagged ‘art in response to history’

falling into place

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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exciting news: Threads of Empire

The University of Nottingham Weston Gallery at Lakeside Arts Centre will be hosting an exhibition from April 12th called ‘Threads of Empire: rule and resistance in colonial India.’,

see http://www.lakesidearts.org.uk/exhibitions/event/3467/threads-of-empire-rule-and-resistance-in-colonial-india-c1740-1840.html

curated by Dr Onni Gust [who writes about gender and Empire and women travellers of the 17 and 1800s see footnote ^] with RA and Phd student, Ibtisam Ahmed, who writes interestingly about Utopia and Empire, including on gender [see+]. They have brought together some very interesting archive pieces, letters, lists, reports of revolt..all with a common link of clothing/ costume/ cultural markers that I find fascinating. When Onni suggested I put together a proposal for a response piece with fellow textile artists I was really excited and energised.  After some discussion with my friends Pauline Edwards and P. Chezharb, we decided to form an artist collective called Infinite Threads and submit our vision of a triptych responding individually and collectively to the archive materials. Yesterday we heard we had been accepted and won a small grant for materials and expenses and a stipend, totalling £1,500! Great news! To give you some context, my last joint exhibition cost £450 to install at a private gallery with NO support for materials… happy rollie* dance!!

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Now here’s the thing about being an artist with chronic illness – a turnaround of Feb 1st to April 12th is very daunting nowadays… because once I’d read the archive materials shared with us, I had a design float into my mind that would be a personal challenge. Nothing like keeping it interesting 😉 I’ve been working towards blending fabric collage into a form of painting for a while, and here is an opportunity to create a ‘jump’ piece where I do that 🙂 I started making machine cords and then patchwork for different layers in my piece a few weeks ago, and was so eager to start, holding back has been very hard…

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So I had a very strong commitment to making this piece for a few reasons – and I think you need that as an artist, because you certainly don’t do it for the money 😉 We had some group discussions about how we felt individually, what material was most interesting to us and any initial visions of how we’d work – there has to be a lot of flex at this point, as one of the things we three share as mixed media artists specialising in textiles [we all have City and Guilds textile works training as well as art skills/ training] is that touching the fabric changes so much. The feel of muslin changes when it is dyed, the fold, the fall, the heft… so much art now ignores how what we touch, what we feel, influences our making. Art is not just cerebral, it has heart and guts, juice, energy… brainwork is one part, but to a textile or mixed media artist, or sculptor and many painters, only one..

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I like working with colour blending, creating volume by tearing cloth, putting thread and fibre to work create new fabrics, working with shadows and silhouettes. I tend to stay abstract and trust my process, absorbing lots of visual and a fair bit of textual research so that when my hands start making, there is something my brain/psyche wishes to ‘download’ into the materials in hand. Intensive contact and co-operation between hand, brain and fabric creates interesting work, better than if I actively designed in a more cerebral way, imposing a concept on the materials, subjugating them.

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Pauline dreams her way in, working with text or an image that seizes her attention, allowing a lot of responses to arise and then working down into them as she applies dye or paint, tranfers chosen text, and finally storms the canvas with her machine loaded with threads galore… she once worked 18 hours straight round at my house when she was making a commissioned quilt to celebrate the 105+ minority communities of Nottingham… the piece stretched from my [empty!] fireplace to the back of the sofa, over 10′ square.

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P. Chezharb creates wonderful painterly surfaces using Procion dyes, and then adds mixed media to them. They are creating some of the fabrics we are using, and then their own part of the triptych will focus on their response to the letter describing a British woman’s visit to the local dignitary’s harem from 1742, and the struggle to end sati [suttee, the burning of widows on a husband’s funeral pyre] which still occasionally occurred even at the end of the 20th Century.

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I’m going to post more as our works emerge, and explain more of our backgrounds – between us, we have ancestors and recent relatives who were forced to move by slavery, pogrom, persecution by faith, the Highland Clearances, an Asian experience of leaving Tanzania for Britain, the Windrush migration from Jamaica… we are interested in where the intersections of freedom of choice and freedom within circumstance fall, what we can make as message, protest or affirmation for ourselves and our communities of choice and circumstance…when we can make beauty, and when ugly is part of a necessary truth.

*rollator, a seat on wheels I push to help to help me walk [33% less effort] and then sit on as frequently as necessary, which is pretty often.

^ Dr Onni Gust , current research : Home and Exile in the British Imperial Imagination focuses on ideas of “home” and “exile” in the published and unpublished writings of a network of European-imperial thinkers, looking at how their gendered performances of belonging reconfigured the meaning of nation and Europe.

https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/history/people/onni.gust

+’Clothing the Other: The Use of Fashion in Pursuit of a British Imperial Utopia’ by IbtisamAhmed

http://www.davidpublisher.com/index.php/Home/Article/index?id=28595.html

 

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