Saturday, July 9, 2011

Latest creative 'project'!

‘Earth is our Mother’ (7/7/11)
Small block (12 x 12”) with stencil of Goddess of Willendorf in centre.

This block  is hardly a 'major' effort in creativity, but I felt very strongly about doing a block to be part of this wonderful (I suspect) worldwide quilt project, which aims to "Gather the women" to 'bring together the visions that women the world over have for Mother Earth... into a beautiful quilt, shining the energy, love and vision... to help heal her - from my heart to your heart to the heart of Mother Earth.'  It was dreamed up by Enrica Mallard in Eltham, Victoria, Australia - and is still going, if you want to add a block! Enrica will even post you the calico backing if you want (see website below). I love the image of the Great Mother Goddess found originally at Willendorf in Germany 100 years ago; they put out a stamp to commemorate the finding, and many hundred (thousand?) replicas of Her have been found throughout areas named as Old Europe by Maria Gimbutas. I'm glad to again be able to use the silkscreen print made by friend and artist, Sue Swanson, many years ago now - I've almost finished them now! This is what I wrote to go with the image: 
I love having the opportunity to share my vision for Mother Earth, infused into cloth, with the combined visions and energies of other women. For me, the mini sculpture of the Great Mother (labelled in the world of archaeology as the ‘Venus of Willendorf’) at the centre of my block, represents a vision of powerful and embodied creativity (not just ‘fertility’ as physical re-production), but caring, of self and other, and respect derived from mutual respect. She is housed by the movement between light and dark, the movement experienced through the seasons and observation of Earth’s moon.

Women’s Visions United for Mother Earth

Meantime the magpie quilt for Jan is still germinating in the dark of the imagination!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

‘Cherchez la femme: remembering the mothers’

Another small quilt made quite quickly (in a day due to deadline) from ideas that had been gestating over quite a few months of thinking about the theme/requirements and the materials I had at hand. Made in response to an exhibition entitle “The Silk Road”, to be held at the Arts Society of Queenstown New Zealand, the basic requirement was that the quilt be at least $40% silk. Though I have used silk before, specifically raw Thai silk in my quilt for Litha (Summer Solstice), I usually work with cottons - but, like all quilters anticipating a challenge, I did have some silks in my stash! I wanted to keep the quilt small, and continue the idea given birth to in the previous quilt… to honour mothers and the acts of mothering. This has been a life theme of mine, since becoming mother almost 23 years ago – the experience gave me insights beyond understanding of what it means to ‘be’ and ‘become’ a mother.

The fabrics that inspired the quilt came from a ‘book’ of furnishing fabrics, salvaged and given to me by a colleague who knew of my quilting passion (thanks Cleona). Many of the samples for the curtains were from 100% silk – stitched and crimped - such luxury, but of course sizes were limited, being samples. The colours of the samples were so earthy, watery, elemental, reminding me of the earlier quilt and the influence of earth’s colours, in caves, of prehistoric images carved into and made from earth. Then I found other hand-dyed silks bought a long time ago - also in quite lovely earthy colours. These provided the 'background' to insert an image of Earth as Mother - ourselves as Mother of earth.

The image onto fabric from a screen print by Sue Swanson, produced when our children were quite young, was that of the Bird-headed Snake Goddess of early Egypt, symbol of re-turn to life re-newing itself (commonly referred to as 'fertility' from a male sexist point of view). Like all goddesses in prehistory, into the era of patriarchy, She too is hidden – as if behind a curtain, or veil, as many women still quite literally live out their lives and perform their life-sustaining and enhancing ‘duties’. 
For me this ancient image (deliberately hidden behind a 'curtain') inspires internal strength, courage in face of all odds, recognised in my own life experiences in be-coming woman, as a single parent for 22 years, and witnessed in the lives of other women - though the qualities exercised are most often overlooked, hidden and veiled.

‘Learning from the Mothers’: a quilt for IWD’s 100 years' anniversary

A few weeks ago, my friend Sheila, who is currently on retreat in Victoria, sent me a quilt she had made for the International Women’s Day exhibition to be held at Braemar Gallery with the theme: ‘Celebrating the past; educating the future’. I had not thought to make anything, but when I saw her celebratory ‘frieze’ of ‘wonderful women’ using African motifs full of movement, life and joy my creative juices started to feel the need to put fabric together and give expression to the creative energies of women, particularly as mothers.

I had been reading about Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) cave paintings, and the latest finds at Chauvet in southern France. It is a period defined as extending from 37,000 to 11,000 years ago. Such caves provide the most extraordinary examples of visual language – a language of signs and symbols coming out of a ‘void’ according to art historians. From my perspective, though all form originates in the void of unknowing, the images that cover the cave walls came out of the experience of these early humans: experiences that formed beliefs, ideas that we now know as ‘metaphors’, which carry the experience beyond, out of ‘pre-history’ into ‘history’, and the continuity maintained through the motherline.

The focal image in this small quilt (85 x 30cms) is that of the Great Mother, found at Willendorf, Germany in the late 19th century. She is most commonly known as a ‘Venus of Willendorf’ (- ideas mostly connected with ‘fertility’ rather than ‘sexuality’), and is dated at 30,000 years ‘old’. I clearly remember that when I first saw this image I was shocked that an overweight woman without revealing her face could represent the power of women; and be an image of beauty, one that was clearly admired and replicated, since the image has been found in archaeological digs spread across a wide range of Europe. But I soon came to love her deeply because of what she represents to me personally, which in some ways is too difficult to explain.

The simplest explanation is that I recognised myself in her, physically and spiritually. I know that I had ‘boasted’ of getting the stomach rolls (and they continue to roll in); but the strongest feeling was around her power to give birth, motherhood as a power that is accepting, loving, empowering of self and others; that having given birth and raised child/children did not diminish her meaning, her self perception or that of others, but that she felt humbled by experiencing the Mystery through her own physical body.

In calling this small quilt (880x300mms) ‘Learning from the mothers’ I thought of my dear son, Leo, of what he has learnt, as shown through many of his actions. It was significant that on the day this quilt went into the IWD 100th anniversary exhibition at Braemar Gallery, I assisted Leo in transferring his life’s ‘goods and chattels’ to his new home in downtown Sydney – a move to further independence, and from a practical point of view, of being closer to his study (Hons year in Socio-legal) and workplace. His actions have been the greatest affirmation that we learn from the mothers: in his case, from his belief in working for equity and social justice to remembering his friends by ‘rewarding’ them with a T-shirt of the candidate he had worked for in our local electorate, which seems quite trivial in some way – but on another level, it’s not at all trivial, but an action that affirms a worldview.

Back to the quilt. The image of the Great Mother come from my stash of screen prints made by Sue Swanson, soooo... many years ago, when we were ‘new’ mothers together; other fabrics were saved from a period when I experimented with painting over commercial cottons; choice of fabrics was made to represent the greatest, most necessary of Mothers, Earth. Some pieces are of panne velvet, and have a lovely ‘soft’ feel to them.  It came together in quite a short space of time… and there it is!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Use of symbolism in Nickie's quilt

Below are some of the concepts that relate to the symbols incorporated into Nickie’s quilt. Each symbol tends to overlap and interweave with others – as all aspects of every story do.

The central focus of the quilt is the Celtic cross, sharing the two colours of the velvet capes, red and green. This is surrounded by four symbols that represent the foundational relationships in Nickie’s journey: the family relationships between father, mother, Nickie and her sister.

The Wheel symbol, at the top of the cross is also the Wheel of the Year and a Celtic symbol of the life cycle according to the eight seasons, as they were experienced. At the bottom of the cross there is the Cruciate form - a cross of equal lengths enclosed by a circle, a symbol of Creation, cosmic union, initially through the union of male and female; and of the four directions of the Earth meeting at the centre, being surrounded and embraced by the round of Earth’s horizon. I have also read that gypsies adopted the form as both a symbolic of sexual union. In practical ways, the two elements of the symbol were used to mark a horse’s right foreleg with a cross (male) and its left foreleg with a circle (female), on the understanding that the two symbols would attract each other, thereby keeping the horse ‘hobbled’ so as not to run away (Walker p.46).

Nickie’s sister has been involved in the Australian Scouts movement all her life – hence the Fleur-de-lys with the Southern Cross, made from the little stars sewn over the original capes. Another interesting aspect of the fleur-de-lys is that it has Goddess associations, and has been used in imagery of the Mary, Mother of Jesus, whose power as the Virgin aspect of the Triple Goddess (Virgin, Mother, and Crone) was to conceive and give life to the Godhead. By extension it also refers to the power to re-birth self –  both occurrences occurring parthenogenetically, that is, unassisted by male intervention (Walker p.426).

On the complementary right arm of the bigger Celtic cross is another creation symbol of regeneration and ‘the source of unborn souls’, as it gave shelter in the afterlife. It also contains the element of ‘sacrifice’, meaning being made sacred through undergoing/accepting ‘all that Life has to offer’ thereby maintaining the life-force embodied in the World Tree, which was always assigned female gender and regarded as the all-nourishing Mother. In India and Persia, the Tree was depicted with 5 branches, symbolising the 5 elements: earth, air, fire, water and ether (Walker p.472). It can be understood as representing the experiences we have had of healing and being healed: ass Nickie says, ‘learning to embrace all that Life has to offer’.

In each of the four corners there is a ‘sprite’, faerie or angel, providing protection and energy that flows to and from the four directions. These designs were formed by combining elements from the borders of Nickie’s mother’s cape, and celebrates Nickie’s healing powers. Below this there is a panel showing the phases of the moon, waxing from the left into fullness at the centre and waning to darkness on the right. The moon is sacred to Goddess symbolism and ritual. The three dancing Goddesses beneath celebrate their power as creativity and innocence (Virgin), the fertility to give and nurture (Mother), and to renew life (the Wise Old One).

Creating with the fabrics
The symbols on these nine blocks were appliqu├ęd using fine machine satin stitch, using the fabrics alternatively from the green and pink dresses. The surround of the quilt is made from the beautiful, heavily embroidered borders of the two little capes belonging to the two sisters, again combining the green and the red, and the tassles are from each of the 3 capes. I tied them with a loose knot, because the knot is also sacred to the Goddess as weaver-creator; and gypsy women untied knots/braids to assist childbirth (Walker pp. 130, 142). Those on the quilt can be undone, of course – and can be re-made ritually according to need.

Reference: Walker, B, 1988, The woman’s dictionary of symbols & sacred objects, Harper & Row, NY

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Nickie's quilt: more then 10 years later!

The old saying that the wheels of progress move slowly has been has been verified in the case of this quilt, which was commissioned by Nickie over 10 years ago when we met at a presentation I gave about my quilts for the Wheel of the Year.
I am sure that during this long period what was need for the design was slowly gestating before coming into form. I had been keeping the fabrics she gave me on that occasion at the Women’s Centre on the Central Coast, NSW, safely in a plastic container awaiting the day that they would ‘call me forth’, which happened towards the end of 2010. The materials, which had been brought back from Damascus by the woman’s father when she was a girl fascinated me; and the fact that they had threads of gold running through them amd were embroidered with gold thread filled them with light, and me with awe. There was also a sense of almost fearful anticipation, since I had been entrusted not only with such beautiful fabrics but also to tell the stories of those who wore them over fifty years ago. I knew that different parts of their individual stories had been very sad, and yet, the 3 frocks and capes that had been made up from these beautiful pink and green damasks woven throughout with real gold for the mother and her 2 daughters also represented their beauty, pride and playfulness. I wanted the quilt to be a celebration of their lives - and, something tells me it has succeeded in doing that.
Working with the story as it was told to me by Nickie, of her Romany Gypsy father who had served with the British army in Palestine, her Welsh mother and her sister, to whom she remains very close, the design for the quilt started to take the shape of a simple four patch, with the symbols in each of the four central panels focusing on the family connections of Celtic and Rom ancestral backgrounds. The original design gradually expanded into a nine patch, to include Nickie’s sister’s longtime involvement with Scouts Australia, and her own inherited gifts of Spirit, for healing and psychic ‘sight’. Nickie explained that she is ‘constantly in awe of Creation, both seen and unseen. My life  has been quite a journey, full of love, angels, magick, music and fairies’.
It became evident that the quilt would be a banner, a herald, a family coat of arms to be hung with ceremony, transforming the little frocks and making use of the glorious ‘pomp’ that was evident in the splendid, almost royal style of the capes, with their elaborate gilt borders and adorned with epaulettes!
More of the quilt’s Creation Story in the next post. 

10 years later: PhD status accepted...yoohoo!

The news that came through just before the Summer Solstice 2009 is that the examiners, Australian and American, have recommended that the PhD degree be awarded. I still have a little way to go with some re-consideration to be given to the the word ‘indigenous’ which I initially used in the title and is quite central to my thesis: ‘The creative process as sacred expression: women exploring an indigenous spirituality’ (lower case ‘i’). I have been requested to remove it, and will do so, with the inclusion of an explication. The satisfaction has occurred from having finally given voice to my own perceptions of women’s creative spirituality, but also to those of all the women involved in this project over a long period.
It seems to have been confusing for the examiners - and therefore could be for others possibly because the term has become associated exclusively with the First Peoples of the world, and can read either as that the research involves Australian Aborigines, or presumably as a type of appropriation (though this was not mentioned directly in the reports). Also possibly because, to be academically rigorous, I needed to explain more fully my particular use of the word, which was certainly not intended in either of these ways. However, I want to create a context for exploring and re-cognising an ancient indigenous spiritual practice (from Europe) that has great relevance for the whole globe today, which acknowledges our interdependency with all of Earth’s creation.
The research involved local women using their experience of creativity as a means to explore a personal spirituality as it was experienced inherently and identified with their inhabited space/place - that is, a spirituality that could be understood to be ‘native’ to a woman’s body-mind as her ‘land’ of origin; and as a recovery of soul-sense derived from being situated physically in the Southern Hemisphere. From this position, using the term indigenous according to the dictionary definition of ‘indigenous to’, meaning relating to place - is appropriate, not appropriated. From the broader perspective of the definition, as ‘innate, inherent’, I believe that the term ‘indigenous’ is applicable to women re-creating a sense of self in relation to her experience as embodied.
Another reason for choosing to employ the word ‘indigenous’ is as it relates to the methods being used to explore this notion of a spirituality, experienced as inherent and personal to the women involved. This was done by ritualising the the seasonal cycles of the Wheel of the Year, an Earth-centred spiritual perspective practised by the prehisotric groups indigenous to the European continent in the context of their personal creative experience. It was this seasonal ritual observance transferred to and seen from the perspective of the Southern Hemisphere that I reflected on in the making of my own art quilts, an observance which I had felt to be inherited from my ancestors, indigenous to the Northern Hemisphere and covered over by millennia of patriarchal stories and practices that have resulted in the colonisation of my own spiritual sensibilities - and, dare I say, those of my gender.
While the Northern Hemispheric sensibilities to seasonal changes, their symbolic religious and cultural significances have been disrupted by spatial dislocation, I theorised that these earlier sensibilities could be re-covered, uncovered through our experiences of creativity - beginning in the body (through the power to give life to another human being), and experienced through our creativity - in this case, quilt making. The aim was to recover, recreate the expression of these earlier religious and cultural sensibilities in re-alignment to our personal place of habitation through the seasonal cycle, the observance of which gave rise to such practices as are observed by the Abrahamic religions in the first place.
More to come…