Sunday, February 12, 2012

Initiation


You will recall me asking whether it was important that the link between the theme and the resulting piece should be immediately obvious and you will I think see that I decided no it need not!

This quilt ( and I suspect a lot of future work) was inspired by the photographs of Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher in a book called African Cememonies and its condensed version Passages.  I was reading them when the theme was announced and the concept of an initiation ceremony where one transitions from youth to adulthood by way of sacred rituals seemed to be a version of metomorphosis. Originally I was planning to work more directly with images of body art from the Ghanaian Dipko ceremonies.

However, in the course of screenprinting experiments over the New Year I made this piece of cloth and it just begged me to become a Maasai inspired wholecloth quilt. Their ceremony is called 'eunoto' and is perfeormed roughly every seven years.

You may be aware that I have been working on developing a series based on African women. A while ago I took my simplified African ladies motif, exploded the shape then took part of those shapes and cut small stamps from erasers. This cloth was made by screenprinting random blobs of yellow and orange paint onto white PDF fabric then removing some of the paint to give the texture which you can see in the detail below. I then painted over some parts with a Stuart Gill Byzantia paint.



 I cannot show you the precise photos which imspred me as they are copyright ( although I recommend you get a cheap second hand copy of Passages as I did) but I can tell you that the machine stitched cross hatched patterns in red and blue are inspired by traditional Maasi blankets like these. and the centre piece by traditional Maasai jewellery and draped beaded cords such as these , these and these


 In the past I have been worried about making art based on a culture that is not mine but I think in the process of this piece I have worked through that. I will be doing more work along these lines and I am thinking of them not as being about African but as about how I imagine Africa. Not African images but my images dreamed up as I contemplate Africa.  Maybe there is a series. Maybe it is called Africa Dreamed or African Imagined. We shall see.

In the meantime this quilt is about three layers of metomorphosis. It is about initiation ceremonies. It is about the transformation of a white piece of fabric into art cloth, of representational forms of women into abstract patterning and texture. And it is about the transformation of a dark windowless loft into a wonderful studio in which this quilt was made and its maker felt herself begin to transform from a catterpillar munching on the leaves of other people's instruction and influence into a butterfly artist, taking off for the first time under her own wings.

19 comments:

Fibra Artysta said...

Absolutely beautiful - so vibrant and full of life!

Diane Perin Hock said...

Ooh, Helen. It is fascinating to me that when you gave me a fast look at this via Skype without describing what it was about, I instantly thought of Initiation. So even while the piece stands on its own as beautiful with vibrant color, strong lines, and wonderful visual texture, it does suggest the not-obvious idea you were working with to create this. It's beautiful.
Did you bead the central medallion? It's perfect.
And I love the layers of metamorphosis, and how your studio's evolution has played a part in this, too!

Jeannie said...

Gorgeous!

Karen said...

I love what you did with the background of this Helen, it's so interesting even without that gorgeous jewelry. The symbolism of taking off on your own is obvious to me with all you have put into this.

Terri Stegmiller said...

I'd love to see you do a series on Africa, no matter what you end up naming it. I love this, first of all, because I love orange and that is orange! But also it has so much visual interest, texture and movement and the focal element is something I would like to remove and wear myself.

Kristin L said...

Bravo Helen! On it's own the textures and vibrancy of this are super. With the simple title it is immediately clear what you are talking about. I think that you and I tackled similar subjects, but they look so different because of the differences in the cultures we've chosen. I love seeing that difference. Go confidently into your series -- I think "Africa Imagined" is a valid direction given your emotional ties to the countries and culture of the continent.

Lisa Flowers Ross said...

I love the texture and color of the background fabric.

Deborah Boschert said...

That whole cloth background is stunning! I love the bits of green. The pendant is beautiful too and in perfect scale with the rest of the quilt. I love the drapey blue lines of the pendant too. Are they sewn down just so, or free flowing? Great job, Helen!

Helen Conway said...

Deborah, the lines are machine made cords ( i.e a few Oliver Twist threads joined with zigzag stitch) then caught down with the odd counching stitch here and there, just enough to ensure that they stay in place in that flowing arrangement.

Gerrie said...

I spy chartreuse!! And orange!! I love that whole cloth background.

Françoise said...

Gorgeous piece Helen!

Renate said...

This piece elicits definite visions of Africa. Helen I can hear the lion's roar, the elephant's trumpet and the song of the Maasai. Stupendous job!

Diane Perin Hock said...

What's funny about Renate's comment is that I've been to Helen's house and due to its proximity to a wild animal park, you can actually hear the lion's roar and the elephant's trumpet from inside her house. Just another bit of Africa in your life to keep you inspired, Helen!

Helen Conway said...

And better I did actually play the maasi songs on Utube as I made it!

kirsty said...

Helen, I see a whole lot of maturation in this quilt. Your work is developing at such a wild rate of knots!
It's sophisticated, contained and refined.

Terry said...

Well, look at you, Judge Helen! This is WONDERFUL! Very strong and vivid and visually arresting. I love that you have centered the cording and medallion, so you go immediately to it, as something with iconic meaning and strength. The graphic lines of the cording feel almost like roots--very organic. There is something very ritualistic about the whole thing, which is perfectly in tune with its meaning.

Aussie Jo said...

Very poetic paragraph!!

Jay said...

Just beautiful!! You have created a true work of art!!

Sue McB said...

Love your piece, and your past African influenced works. Also delighted to see mention of the book behind this one.....Angela was at university with me in Adelaide....a long time ago!