This quilt is about the expereince of immigration and inspired by kuba cloths. Kuba cloth ( Or Bakuba Cloth) originates from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and are of two general forms, those, like this one which are made from cut pile raffia and are based on geometric patterns which subtly 'morph' and 'warp' as the cloth progresses. Others like this one are based on appliqued shapes.
One day last week I was reading a book about these cloths and thinking about how, frequently, one society attempts to understand another one by reading the clues in their cultural artifacts. In my work I come accross immigrants frequently. At one time it was people fleeing political instablity - many in fact came from war torn DRC. Now it is the Asian community of East Lancashire whose immigrant roots started with the need for labour in the local cotton mills and continues with the culture of family arranged marriage from the 'home village'.
The left hand side of this quilt represents the familiar 'home state'. It is traditional and slow with hand stitching and an ordered pattern. But it is not as stable as it maybe looks on first glance. Under the familar, political or personal disharmony is beginning. The pieces of the pattern are changing and disintegrating, pushing the immigrant out and into the right hand side of the quilt.
Here, in the 'western world, the quilt is faster and more mechanised, with machine stitching. The shapes are not unrelated to the home state side becuase societies are basically concerned with the same things - family life, economic prosperity, law and order and so on. Individulas in both places simply want food, shelter, love, community. But, in the new country these concerns are arranged in different ways. Systems of governance are organised differently. In both places there are courts for example, but the immigrant finds the new system confusing and scattered and hard to navigate. I remember in particular one asylum seeker from the DCR who was highly educated and spoke four languages fluently and whose extended family had been killed for poltical reasons. From a country where basic survival demands hard labour he was totally baffled as to why in the UK he was not allowed to have a work permit so he could be self supporting but at the same time was castigated in the press as a 'benefits scrounge'.
Even the means of communication are different. On the left the shapes are grey cloth to represent the kuba cloth. Some academics postulate that the patterns in the cloths may have had meanings to the makers and those who wore them. But here in the UK meaning is not woven into textiles, rather it is communicated in words. Not only are the words unafmilar but the way in which the words are presented is the exact opposite of the soft pilable cloth each caressed for months by the embroiderer and which have lasted for centuries. Rather, the grey shapes on the right are more ephemeral paper, to be precise a newspaper picture of a Kindle with its hard case and remotely transmitted material.
On a lighter note: for those of you who read about my disappearing Elephant muse it turns out he did not run away at all but was just portrait shy. All Sunday while I made this, with the patio doors wide open to the sun, I was entertained by the trumpeting of the elephants who live across the fields behind us.
We are twelve quilt artists who embarked on an art challenge together. We're from different places throughout the world and our artistic styles vary, but we share a love of art quilting and a desire to play, experiment, learn, and grow.
For four years (2007-2011), we each made a 12x12 inch quilted art piece on a designated theme or palette. See our Theme Series and our Colorplay series.
For the 2012 Series, we changed things a bit and made rectangular pieces, 20x12 inches with roughly 10 weeks between each challenge. As before, we had a designated theme for each challenge.
We shared our process, progress, and results on this blog. It remains a key record of our rich collaboration.