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How quickly January has gone by. A lot of my time has been taken up by preparing publicity.
By now I had hoped to have finished all the art work, and be able to concentrate entirely on final preparations for the exhibition. But I still have so much I want to do! Friends have consoled me with such reflections as, ‘I have never known an exhibition fail to happen because some of the work had not been completed.’ This is true; you go with what you’ve got. So I will just have to see what else I can complete in the time.

I have been working on a series of ‘paper’ cuts, having discovered tyvek, which looks like paper, but as it is made of plastic is much more resilient. I have nearly completed 2 cuts now called Home Land and Home Town. While tyvek will take acrylic paint easily, in this case I preferred to use the white untreated as I was hoping to express loss and emptiness.

Home Land - cracked earth

Home Land – cracked earth

I tried out a small version of Home Land and realised how important it was to get the lighting right in order to make the best of the light and shadow caused by pieces of tyvek curving out from the plane of the main structure. Sarah Casey told me what she had used to hang her paper pieces, and Chris (who is my technician) has bought a battery-powered light to try out. As you can see I have not yet hung and lit it properly.

I have also continued to work on the papier mache footprints, which I hope will come together as a complete piece soon.

Shapla Lily Maxi Dress

This dress was made to represent the people who came to Preston from Bangladesh – mostly from the Sylhet district. The national flower is the shapla waterlily or Nymphaea nouchali.

I took the mid green colour for the dress from the flag. After I had made up the bodice and skirt (thankfully not the sleeves) I thought that there was not enough contrast between the front skirt panel with flowers and the side panels.It was a bit reckless re-colouring the side and back panels a darker green at at this stage, but luckily it worked. I also experimented with a red waistband and collar detail ( to represent the red part of the flag) but I decided against that addition, as it detracted from the waterlily detail.

Shapla Maxi Dress 1

Sadly I think this is the last dress that I have time to make for the exhibition, though there were a couple more I had in mind, particularly to cover the much earlier migration to Preston from Ireland.

‘Whose Freedom, Whose Empire?’

There is a statue of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the Storey Gallery and a tradition that artists add something to the statue during an exhibition.
I decided to run up a quick piece of map clothing for fun; an Empire Apron!

Whose Freedom? Whose Empire?

Whose Freedom? Whose Empire?

I ordered a map of the British Empire during her reign. The design of the apron was easy, using the northern hemisphere for the bib. I printed off sections of the Union Jack for the neck and waist ties as there was not enough spare map for that. The map had  a few British explorers, a lot of happy natives all around the edges, and lounging maidens across the top holding banners with the words Freedom, Fraternity and Federation: words written in all seriousness during her reign, but probably rather ironic for many British people (though not all) nowadays. I was concerned that I was just perpetuating and supporting the original myth and felt I had to do a bit more – so not such a quick piece of work after all.

I was given a book, recently rescued from a skip, London Illustrated Newspaper 1844. Plenty of black and white illustrations in there of less contented  and  passive natives. This could provide an alternative commentary.

I think the piece needs a different title; ‘Whose Freedom, Whose Empire?’ Rather than ‘Empire Apron’.

Poppy and almond dress

Poppy and almond dress

Poppy and almond dress

Making a design for Poland has been the toughest challenge yet. There were 2 periods of migration from Poland to Preston; one from the 1890s consisted of Jews, while the WW2 period mostly consisted of Catholic ex-servicemen. I could make clothes for each, but it feels important to keep both together and therefore recognise that Polish Jews felt themselves to be Polish.
I researched the Polish flag and flower, red and white flag, red poppy. So I could have red poppies on a white background, or the reverse, or both.

But how to integrate the Jewish history? The symbol usually associated with Jews is the Star of David, but that has strong connections now to the Holocaust, and I don’t necessarily want to reference that. The symbol that Jews frequently use themselves is the 7 branched menorah, so that would feel more respectful.

I spent ages trying to integrate poppies and menorah. I was not happy with the results either artistically or conceptually, as it was breaking the rule that I had made for myself about using flowers.

In the middle of the night I remembered some illustration that I did in the 1990s for Moonwise, a multicultural lunar calendar, when I was pursuing the theme of trees in spiritual traditions. If I recalled correctly the design for the menorah is based on the almond flower. Next day I checked. I was right. Conceptual problem solved! Artistic one still to do.

menorah based on almond blossom

menorah based on almond blossom

Exodus 25:31-40.
v31 Make a lampstand of pure gold. Hammer out its base and shaft, and make its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms of one piece with them. v32 Six branches are to extend from the sides of the lampstand—three on one side and three on the other. v33 Three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms are to be on one branch, three on the next branch, and the same for all six branches extending from the lampstand. v34 And on the lampstand there are to be four cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms. v35 One bud shall be under the first pair of branches extending from the lampstand, a second bud under the second pair, and a third bud under the third pair—six branches in all. 36 The buds and branches shall all be of one piece with the lampstand, hammered out of pure gold.

Bois carib dress

Dress for Dominica using national flower and flag colours

Dress for Dominica using national flower and flag colours

I found out that most of the West Indians in Preston in the 1980s came from Dominica. The national flower of Dominica is the bois carib. It took me some time to make a design with the bois carib flower that I was happy with and that would work with the tiny amount of map that I had available since the islands are so small. The first designs had too few flowers to make an impact because of this limitation. In the end I decided to use maps of other Caribbean islands as well, and use maps for only half of the flowers, drawing the rest.

I wanted to make a dress using ‘fabrics’ of 2 different colours. I saw the Dominica flag, and decided to use those colours; the green and yellow for the background colours, and the black, white and red for the pattern. I love the contrasts.

The work making the dresses demands so much patience – such as waiting for 5cm of glued seam to dry before gluing the next 5cm, which I have to do when fitting two curved edges together, or trying to coax paper to bend rather than fold, crumple and crease. And then I finish a piece, and I know why I put myself through it.

Wearable map clothes

Jolene wearing my personal history map-clothes

Jolene wearing my personal history map-clothes

Family history collar round my neck

Family history collar round my neck

Bolero in progress

Bolero in progress

What to wear to the opening? People have been encouraging me to make map clothes to wear since I blogged about it earlier. As usual there is the idea and then the practical limitations.

I have discovered about 95 ancestors in my family circle – rather than doing a family tree I have put myself at the centre and worked backwards and outwards, to get 4 grandparents, 8 great grandparents and so on. I have connections to the south of England (Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Hampshire), south east Scotland, Orkney, Ireland, Nigeria and Jamaica. One grandfather was born in Nigeria to missionary parents and grew up in Jamaica. A 3 greats grandmother, illegitimate but recognised daughter of a young army officer, got married in Jamaica at the age of 14 in 1800. These affiliations are rather outside my comfort zone, so I decided to make a huge collar for Nigeria and Jamaica – symbolic strangling perhaps.

I used maps of all the other areas as panels of a wrap-around skirt, and filled in family information as it related to each place. Sometimes it was hard to decide what to put in and what to leave out – the closer I get to the present the more family stories I know. It is still not finished as I can’t decide what map to use for the waist band.

Finally I thought about mapping me, my partner and our son. I did not map everywhere I have lived, just the most important; the various communities I have lived in, and the decade in Lancaster. This turned into a bolero. This was the hardest to make fit me, because I was not using a pattern, and I was trying to fit it to my body – using masking tape since I could not use pins as I would with material. Eventually I had to get help and have other people stick me in.

What is interesting about this piece of work in the context of the exhibition is the movement of people between the different countries within the UK and the mixing of people from different classes.
Among my ancestors I have a groom, a gamekeeper, farm labourers, a coal miner, factory workers, milliners, shoemakers, even a smuggler, members of the professional class and also  members of the owning class from esquires and lords to factory owners. I have various religious people from the Dean of Down, to vicars and missionaries. I have an MP (who is another skeleton in the cupboard). I have a pacifist who was imprisoned, and one of the early women doctors – the second wave rather than the first. And I have someone who lived in a Quaker community – my mum always comforted herself when I started living in communes by saying it was in my genes.

Why have I got vodka in my studio?

No its not for drinking

No its not for drinking

To make the plaques I put some damp sand in a bucket and placed my own bare foot on the sand to get a print, then mixed up some plaster of Paris and poured it in. It took a while to set because of the dampness of the sand. Then I had to get the cast out by upending the bucket and scattering sand everywhere. Then I had to order a whizzer online, (Chris having broken the previous one with hot soup.) Meanwhile I greased the cast with vaseline and carefully laid out the top layer of the final piece using tissue paper for the foot and newspaper strips for the surround glued together with acrylic medium. Finally got around to whizzing up some paper scraps into papier mache and adding it to the piece to make a thicker base. I wondered what would take the Vaseline off the top surface. Google told me to use rubbing alcohol from a chemist, but if none stocked it, I could use vodka instead. Well, guess what, I ended up with vodka in my studio.

I have learnt from the experience that I need to use a shallower but wider receptacle for the sand, so I can mould bigger feet or shoes, and get the cast out without so much mess.

I had a lovely time with a 7 year-old neighbour, showing him how to make a plaster cast of his feet. He was very impressed that he had to wear a mask while we mixed the plaster. It is getting interesting making the plaques, as I have to decide what news stories to paste around the edge, as well as what personal story to tell in the footprint. I found a good piece about the need for education in the refugee camps which felt just right.

the need for education

the need for education

Returning to paper clothes (as it takes so long for papier mache to dry), I took the story of the child drowned on a Turkish beach and conflated it with the current destruction of Syrian civilisation. So to tell both those stories at once, I made paper clothes for a toddler out of maps of Syria. When they were complete I crumpled them thoroughly, unlike the fashion clothes which I am trying not to crumple. I have stopped short of tearing or burning holes with joss sticks – but I still might.

Dying Syria

Dying Syria

Where are we going?

footprint 1

‘Where are we going?’ is now the official title of my exhibition next March.

I have been thinking about how as an artist to reflect on the current crisis in Syria. There is so much in the news that it is overwhelming. Some articles that have affected me discuss what language to use to describe people, and the probable cause of the crisis.
Do you use politically charged words like ‘genuine refugees’, ‘economic migrants’, ‘illegal asylum seekers’? asked David Marsh, Guardian Weekly 11.09.15 or do you call them ‘people’? Are they just numbers – ‘marauding hordes’ – or are they people each with their own history?
An editorial 13.03.15 described the impact of drought 2007-2010 in the Fertile Crescent leading to collapse of agricultural communities, migration into cities, increased unemployment and poverty, which led to destabilisation of Assad’s regime. Are many of these people therefore climate refugees?

And over the last 2 months there have been so many descriptions of people’s attempts to reach safety in Europe in the face of blockades, fences, military and civilian police, the extortions and cynicism of people smugglers, the cost of bribes, the inadequacy of the transport systems, the horrendous conditions in the camps. My next door neighbour was himself caught up in the trek along the railway line from Budapest into Austria, although he had a ticket and was a tourist. In the end he shared a taxi with some of the refugees.

When I was making a series of map-clothes about the experiences of Jews in the last century, I was conscious of trying to name individuals when possible, to counteract the dehumanising attempts by the Nazis to reduce them to numbers, and the dehumanising impact on us all of the horrifyingly huge numbers of people killed. I feel that a similar approach is required for this project. As so much of the story is about the journey, I have started to make plaques of footsteps, and to find some of the real names and stories.

DSCN1833 dress

Marigold Dress Complete

I have had a long break from writing the blog, (how could I compete with Corbyn mania?) which means that the marigold dress is now complete.
I found that tyvek is a wonderful material for making stencils. I just ordered a sample pack of A4 sheets of Tyvek, and now know that the thicker paper type tyvek works best.
I used 2 shades of darker blues for the leaf stencil, over a mid-blue background, rolled on with a decorator’s small roller, with more leaves on the skirt papers than the bodice.

DSCN1820 test lino colours

DSCN1824 golddust sprinkles
I was concerned about what colour to use for the lino cut marigolds –what would work with the leaves and the map colour. I tried out various options and decided that burnt orange ink with a sprinkling of gold dust worked the best –and related to the use of marigolds and gold in Hindu festivals.
DSCN1826 gold lino prints

Lotus dress complete

lotus dress complete
The lotus dress is complete at last. Hooray. I found it much harder to make than the map clothes I made a few years ago. Not sure why. More complex design? Fear of spoiling pristine white paper, whereas old maps are already fairly filthy? How time consuming it is to fold paper; the maths and the practicalities? Is it a really a bonus to work on a model rather than make the clothes flat on the table? I certainly allowed myself to be distracted from working in my studio rather too often. Walking with Wolves on Newton Fell in August for example.

Only 7 more clothes to go, and I hope I can speed up. I have decided to work on the marigold dress next. The marigold is the state flower of Gujurat. Many Gujuratis went to Kenya and Uganda and then had to leave in 1968-73. So I will be using the Kenyan and Ugandan maps for the marigolds – though I may use some of a Gujurat map if I run out of Kenya and Uganda.
The fabric design is somewhat driven by the size of map. I decided to make a halterneck shiftdress. So I made a rough design on the model (not Jolene anymore) and placed 4cm circles on it. That is as many circles as I can make from the map – (times 2 for the other side). As a result of that test I decided to use 2cm circles on the bodice which gives me a few more.

marigold dress design  marigold fabric design

What could a marigold look like for a swinging 60s dress? Time for a free scribble. Then I had to weigh up what I liked against what I could achieve by either paper stencil or lino cut. The lino cut flowers will be printed on the map and then cut out. The paper stencil will be used for the leaves – and instead of making screenprints (as I do not have a screen and Artlab has closed) I will use a decorator’s roller, acrylic paint and a paper stencil. That experiment worked and the painted paper still folds.

colour paper by roller map colour Uganda and Kenya

Colours are go – I can’t stand the terror of working with white anymore. The late 60s and early 70s used a lot of bright colours, but just look at the map! I will have choose something a bit more subtle, and opt for unrealistic colours, which is also OK for the period – mid blue back ground and navy blue leaves perhaps.