Sunday, 7 March 2010

After hearing the artist Paddy Hartley speak about Project Façade using personal stories as the basis of his textile works, I decided to utilize some of the stories I had researched in the Stories of Cloth project, particularly that of some Somali women who taught me how to embroider wedding hats for their men folk using white cloth, thread and acacia thorns as needles. Whilst sewing they shared of their experiences of Female Genital Mutilation, and how the same acacia thorns had been used to pierce and stitch flesh in this painful ritual.
I have begun to explore ways of visually sharing this story, by contrasting the beauty of the hand embroidered wedding hats and the pain and blood loss of the female circumcision; both acts a preparation for the ritual of marriage within the Somali culture. I have been looking at the work of Judy Chicago who combines the notion of sacramental tradition and the intimacy of the feminine in her work the Dinner Party, a ceremonial banqueting table laid out for 39 female guests, each place setting comprising of an embroidered runner and a porcelain plate depicting a butterfly like image symbolic of a vaginal central core. I have borrowed this symbolism and embroidered in various different styles and formats images taken from Chicago’s work and then embedded them into the Somali prayer hats using off whites and reds as my statement colours representing purity and blood. I have struggled to create works that combine a sense of violence and beauty within one work, something that the artist Cathy de Moncheaux achieves; her sculptural textiles juxtapose the soft warmth of textiles, silks and velvets with strongly sexual overtones against the harsher materials of metal, lead and spiky objects creating work that is both threatening and sensual.
I have created a series of four embroidered panels using soft, off white silks and linens, splitting the fabric to reveal a wound of pleated red silk accompanied by fish hooks and nails; these are abstract stitched drawings of the wounds inflicted on these young girls as part of their cultural ritual of cleansing. Although aesthetically pleasing these sketches do not adequately portray the violence experienced in these ritual acts and so my quest continues.

I have become deeply interested in material culture, religious ritual and rites of passage; I am constantly challenged by the role that art, imagination and materiality plays in helping us to develop our understanding of the nature of God. I am a great believer in kinesthetic learning and feel that both individual and collective memory is induced through the senses, particularly touch and sight. This was the experience of many through the cloth project, as the women held their various pieces of 'special' cloth a connection was made to past memory, to a deeper understanding of the unseen world and a strong connection and sense of belonging to tribe, family, culture or religion.

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