In my research for the ‘Home’ commission I have considered the wealth of making and artistry in Syria. The Syrian government gifted Queen Elizabeth II thirty yards of Nassan Brothers’ silk brocade for her wedding gown. Indigenous crafts can also be found in the humblest of dwellings; in the painted, patterned, woven bamboo screens and the quirky childrens’ embroidery of the nomadic Bedouin tribes.
As an artist I understand what a pleasure it is to make. I want to create a relaxed atmosphere in the ‘Home’ workshops, to engender a sense of freedom and play. My aim is to offer a space where the women can find new ways to express themselves while at the same time developing new friendships. In the first session we worked collaboratively using torn fabric ribbons, handwriting, hand painted threads and felt-making – asking each-other questions in English and Arabic as a way to introduce ourselves.
As a point of departure in the next session, I referred the group to the common language of textiles; the use of block printing and stencils as methods of imprinting motifs onto cloth, which is a practice seen across the world. Once the fabric has been marked up, shapes and patterns can be filled with stitch, appliqué, coloured inks or beading. I showed the group examples of the blue tissue paper transfers used in UK households in the last century for domestic hand embroidery. I related this to the block printing of cloth in Damascus in the production of Syria’s chain-stitch Aghabani textiles. The stamped cloth would traditionally be sent outside the capital to Douma or Harasta to be sewn on machine by local women in their homes.
With these ideas and processes in mind, the group began creating motifs and drawings inspired by ‘home’ and the feeling of being at home somewhere. What are the colours and scents that come to mind when we think of home? We spoke about our hands, how much we use them in the maintenance of our homes and home lives, how much strength we need as mothers. We touched on the importance of music and songs. A Syrian mother spoke about the impossibility of recreating the smell of Syria, and then went on to draw her terrace back home.
My creative process involves absorbing what is happening in the sessions, what we speak of in our conversations, the feelings and atmospheres that are conjured. In my studio, between each workshop, I have created dozens of hand made stamps inspired by the participants’ artwork, objects and ideas; flowers, leaves, musical notes, ladders, crosses, stars, zig-zags, hearts, tea cups, flames, waves, letters. This vocabulary of marks and symbols will continually expand and form the basis of our work over the coming months. It is an open, experimental process that I hope will provide the women with time to reflect and a sense of joy and community.
Anna Ray, June 2018