About a year ago, a curator and artist from Pakistan named Samina Islam emailed to ask if I'd be interested in participating in a fiber art exhibition -- the first of its kind -- in Karachi at the VM Art Gallery. It was easy to find information on the gallery -- a non profit, in operation since 1987, with a stated intention that aligns with my own:
"Arts and crafts have always been a significant part of any culture and society around the world and artists are integral to its well being, creativity, diversity as well as innovations of any community; artists are people who make a contribution not only to the world’s cultural heritage but also to their country."
VM Art Gallery
But I still had questions, not about sending my work to Pakistan, specifically, but about sending my work overseas in general. This was my first international invitation and I wanted to ensure my decision to participate wasn't clouded by my own giddiness. Luckily, I have a Pakistani friend here in Anchorage, Shehla Anjum*, who I've known for over 13 years. We met in the Creative Writing MFA program at the University of Alaska Anchorage and our paths have woven like a braided river ever since. When I was first contacted by Samina, my friend Shehla happened to be in Pakistan visiting family.
What are the chances?
"This show is meant to introduce the public to a variety of ways textile and fiber can be used to produce works that go beyond their aesthetics and raise a voice to incite a discourse on a range of issues effectively – a strengthened position that may not have had equal impact through other media.
For this exhibition Islam has brought five local and six international artists to participate and has assembled a diverse culmination of artworks that employ a gamut of techniques peculiar to the use of fabric and textile. The show is a mix of diverse cultures, stances, and voices that produce a cacophony of individual narratives despite the use of a single agent."
VM Art Gallery, exhibition press release excerpt
Shehla wasn't able to meet face-to-face with Samina, but they spoke on the phone in Karachi and discovered they have a mutual friend, Masuma Halai Khwaja, also an artist, and this was probably how my name was thrown into the global mix. Shehla indicated that Samina's enthusiasm for the curatorial effort was contagious and she passed that confidence on to me.
" (The artists) grant viewers to look beyond the rendered aesthetics and engage with the familiar medium, the materiality, the making, and the meaning behind the making. From installations and mixed media pieces, sculptural interventions and two dimensional artworks, the artists subsume thread, fiber, cloth, and garments in their works to bridge their voice with the audience and to evoke a response from viewers through the use of seductive, tactile materials that are inarguably an accessible art form."
Excerpt from Samina Islam's curatorial statement
I'm honored to be included in such company, some of whom I've followed for years, such as Sue Stone, and others whose names have more recently been appearing in various publications, such as Richard McVetis, or illustrator Manica Musil, who will soon publish her textile illustrated children's book with Oxford University Press, Pakistan in English and Urdu because of this opportunity. Other contributing artists have reached out to me, across oceans, across cultures, and now we're connected in this small way.
During a time of global uncertainty, this exhibition has a fitting title -- when caring for cloth, you often need to unravel the damage before any mending can begin. I know Samina Islam worked incredibly hard to bring all of us together, and she didn't have to.
But she did.
I sent the first "Girl Story" piece. It's won two awards and exhibited widely, so if she gets lost coming back to me, then that's part of the story.
But she won't.
I couldn't attend the opening, so Samina asked for a video. I think I was more nervous about making this than sending work overseas. So here's what I sent, shaky voice and all. Many thanks to my sister, Erica, for putting this one together.
Here is a list of the other contributing artists with links to their sites. I hope you'll seek them out. I hope you'll cross that bridge.
Rosie James (UK)
Richard McVetis (UK)
Sue Stone (UK)
Lyndsey McDougall (Ireland)
Manica Musil (Slovenia)
Samina Islam (Pakistan)
Numair Abbasi (Pakistan)
Roohi Ahmed (Pakistan)
Asad Hussain (Pakistan)
Masuma Halai Khwaja (Pakistan)
You can read critic Rabia S. Akhtar's review of the exhibition in Art Now: Contemporary Art of Pakistan.
*And back to my friend Shehla Anjum -- she was one of the contributors to the Inheritance Project, and you can read about the cloth I inherited from her in the post The 12th boxes of mystery. She is a writer, question asker, world traveler and generous human, and despite calling the US home for decades, she is also feeling the emotional effects of being born in a Muslim country. Connecting Samina and I has become a glimmer of silver, which she recently wrote about in an opinion piece for the Alaska Dispatch News.
If you are interested in other exhibitions, click on the sidebar category Gallery Shows and scroll down since this post will come up first.