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."
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.
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.
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.
I'm sorting through process photographs from the last 2 or 3 years, revisiting images and objects that have inspired me, or forced me to pause, or served as jumping off points. It's been a good exercise and I realize how bombarded I've been with current imagery and noise; I'd jettisoned my own thoughts to make room for it all. It's been good to reclaim moments that still feel pure.
Yesterday someone referred to her need to constantly listen to the news as having the same effect as coming upon a car accident: "You want to look away, but you can't stop staring."
"War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength."
One would think I could fit the last 4 boxes of mystery into one post, but there are too many beautiful images, so I'm splitting this into 2 parts. Unfortunately, I've already used the juicy words "antepenultimate" and "penultimate" otherwise I'd apply at least the latter here. So the next post, the 23rd, is really, really the final.
If you are stumbling across this blog for the first time and wondering what the hell is happening, I'll re-route you to the Inheritance Project page, where you can read more and find links to peruse the contents of the other 21 boxes of mystery sent from contributors all over the world, complete with narratives, histories and lots of question marks about the many, many makers unknown.
I offered to be the final inheritor (or the sin-eater, as one woman called me, except -- while dark and interesting -- I don't really want to be one of those). I offered to hear the stories, many of them very sad, but others full of vibrant, creative lives well lived. I offered to take on the burden of generations of handwork too precious to use and too guilt-laced to throw away. And when people responded, I gave my time in return -- I crocheted teeny tiny doilies, I hand-wrote letters of thanks, and laundered and documented and showcased these domestic linens here for a year and a half.
And now that part of the project is ending.
From these raw materials -- discarded, rescued, contributed -- I'm building a body of work that celebrates the uncelebrated, values the valueless, re-uses the useless. I'm exploring the mythology of unknown makers through collective memory and the recurring narrative themes of loss, ideals of beauty -- real, imagined or unrealized -- and power of womanhood.
I've received one small grant that allows me to work on this project and am applying for another. My exhibition proposal has been accepted by two museums. I just signed a 12 page contract with the first one.
Shit just got real.
And believe me when I say this work would not exist without the work of other women. Not a moment passes when I don't remember this fact, and I am immensely grateful.
Below are the contents of the 22nd boxes of mystery.
Long distance neighbor.
If you've never been to Alaska, please understand that it is enormous. Anchorage is the largest city, with nearly half the population of the state living in it, so when folks come into town, they plan their trip, spend the night, see people, and get a lot done. Linda Robinson lives 4 hours away from me in Homer (one of my favorite places in Alaska aside from Prince William Sound), so dropping off linens at my home and meeting me in person happened to be on her Anchorage to-do list. Some of these items were made by her grandmother, Cora May Torrey, who died in the mid 1970's, others have been acquired elsewhere and are of unknown provenance.
Many thanks, Linda, for the pit stop. I loved meeting you in person even though it was a super quick visit. When I'm in Homer next, I know we'll spend more time together. I'll make sure it's on my to-do list. I appreciate your effort to bring me these beautiful items.
Boxes inside a box.
My deep gratitude to the very creative Lara Ferguson, who sent items to me from California and took an incredible amount of time attaching descriptions and personal responses. She sent the cigar boxes to "keep treasures in," which is so sweet since I have some of my Grandpa Wayne's mid-century cigar boxes, too. Some of her thoughts are as follows:
"It seems like you can tell the age of the piece by the size of the thread: the skinnier, the older. I've crocheted a vintage pattern with #30 thread -- how did they have enough light for that kind of work?"
"Lace, tatting, beading ... they don't seem to be from the same maker ... but they all came in the same box."
Lara made a number of the items she sent and shared her creative process.
"I was working through pattern books and practicing stitches and technique. Using ecru thread made me feel like I was crocheting antiques."
"I crocheted a rainbow version of the mandala that is hooped and hung in my bathroom, for my 2-minute tooth brushing meditation."
Hang on. I clearly need a tooth brushing meditation.
"I hope the things I've included inspire you in some way, even if they don't make it into your pieces. I feel like I got a deeper understanding of your work going through this exercise..."
I love that last statement. When was the last time I immersed myself in thinking about another artist's work? It's been a long while and this was a good reminder to get out of my head and do that more.
Thank you Lara for sending these things and telling me all their stories.
* * *
The next post features the last boxes of mystery, for real, and before contacting me with contribution queries, please know I'm unable to accept further items. Seriously. The gathering phase has been wonderful, but overwhelming and I'm ready to be fully immersed in the making. These blog photos are lovely and organized, but I don't launder or sort items until after I've blogged about them (along with a million other rules I've manifested to maintain control), so it gets a little hectic for my Virgo mind.
What I'm saying here is don't be fooled by blogs and the supposed lives of others. This is the cutting table I get to tidy up now. Yup, I'm all full up with the doilies.
The exhibition, Inheritance: makers. memory. myth., is scheduled for May 4 - Sept. 16, 2018 at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, then will immediately travel to the Alaska State Museum in Juneau for November. Some of you have already contacted me to say you're coming to Alaska for the summer of 2018.
I'm actively seeking other venues and would love your ideas. Maybe you won't have to travel so far if this can come to you.
A collection of images and words that hum in this after-solstice but still-so-dark season. The companion post to Ice.
Holding the Light
for it’s not only our
it all comes down to this:
with compassion and wire.
* * *
Thank you Stuart Kestenbaum for permission to use this poem and to Juno Lamb for sharing it with me in the first place. These words continue resonating with these collected images, working toward making sense of my work's next turn.
I could just as easily apply them to my hopes for the world.
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.