Home was commissioned by People United, the Diocese of Canterbury and Ashford Borough Council in 2018, and funded by Arts Council England. The project saw textile artist Anna Ray working with a group of women in Ashford, including recently resettled Syrian women, to explore the theme of ‘home’ through a series of art workshops. Together the group created a body of work that was exhibited in Ashford in November 2018, and we are hoping to tour in 2019 and beyond.

The project provided the group with opportunities to explore their commonalities and celebrate their differences, using the shared experience of making work together as the foundation of bringing a new community together.

Anna reflects on her experience;

At the beginning of the ‘Home’ project I purchased fifty metres of white cotton fabric to use in the workshops. Over the course of seven months this cloth has been torn up, written on, painted, stamped, drawn on, projected over, folded, hung, draped, layered, tied, punctured, stitched, appliquéd and gathered. We have expressed our feelings, explored our memories and imaginations, and made connections with each-other through this material.

This project has created a community, a sense of home for all involved. The women, both long term residents and Syrian mothers now bump into each-other in town and chat, while their children play happily together. Memories of the shared experiences and achievements of the group will last and will, I hope, inspire all of the women to reach out to others in the community in the future, even if they are unfamiliar.

Flowers Gather Hearts – Photo Anna Ray

I have seen the strength and resilience of the women on this project. I acknowledge the challenges that we face as women and mothers, in the creation and perpetual reinvention of home, a process that is not only for ourselves but also for those around us. Home is not just a place, it is a part of who we are, something that we strive to protect, and learn to adapt in myriad ways.

At times I have felt overwhelmed by the responsibility of representing so many voices in the creation of this commission. My hope was to reflect all who have participated within the final artwork. In the process of making my work, I try not to reach for an answer too soon, to take risks, however it is important for me that the work is resolved and refined at the conclusion of the making process. I am always looking for something new, and the only way to achieve this is to play and experiment, right up to the last moment.

Heart Strings – Photo Anna Ray

The artwork central to the final installation, ‘Gather’, is soft, delicate and sentimental, which corresponds to my experience of and feelings about the group. I selected, edited and arranged the participants’ imagery in thirty three digitally repeated patterns. Once printed on to silk, linen and cotton, I incorporated these unique fabrics into an appliqué panel, inspired by traditional Bedouin textiles. In ‘Gather’, each ribbon of pattern can be gathered or flattened by manipulating the threads that hang from the bottom edge of the textile, dynamically shrinking the cloth, creating volume and form.

Home Film Still – Photo Anna Ray

In the film ‘Home’ the women present their work to us, laying each cloth in turn over a table. The film begins with a traditional Syrian Aghabani tablecloth being laid over a hand embroidered tablecloth made by my grandmother. The cloths transform as they are folded and unfolded, opened up and closed. In turn, each surface reveals and conceals the details of our stories and experiences. The work is anecdotal in its arrangement of patterns, symbols and marks. Each piece of material reminding us of a particular session or individual; lasting, intimate expressions of our feelings about ‘Home’.

Home Edition – Photo Anna Ray

Sixty people were involved in the Home project. Each participant, partner, and volunteer has been given an edition of prints as a memento of this special commission.

This film shows the women layering the artwork created in the workshops. You will also see the exquisite hand embroideries that some of the them made at home. The film begins with a traditional Syrian Aghabani tablecloth being laid over a hand embroidered tablecloth made by Anna’s grandmother. This layering performance was repeated during the opening of the exhibition and everyone was invited to join in.

Film by Anna Ray

Funded & supported by:

The Artist: Anna Ray

Anna Ray studied BA (Hons) and MFA Tapestry at Edinburgh College of Art and became a Lecturer in the department soon after graduation. She was artist in residence at Winterbourne Botanic Garden, University of Birmingham in 2004 and at Frances Bardsley School, Romford, 2006-2007. In 2015-2016 she was artist in residence for The RHS Chelsea Flower Show. She has been granted major awards for her work and has exhibited internationally over the last twenty years in both applied art and fine art contexts.

Ray has been commissioned to make work for public and private collections: Paintings in Hospitals and Marie Curie Cancer Care. In 2014 the law firm Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co acquired and commissioned a series of works for their new premises in Birmingham. She recently exhibited in the high profile exhibition ‘Entangled: Threads & Making’ curated by Karen Wright at Turner Contemporary in Margate. Her work ‘Margate Knot’ was funded by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.