Strands of Place and Time
Janina Screen Asmaa, Nahome Bukasa, Susan Kamara, Alice Kettle
The screen is made up of four separate panels by myself and three extraordinary refugee women: Asmaa who came with her husband and two small children from Aleppo in Syria, Nahome Bukasa from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Susan Kamara from Uganda. All have fled from conflict, have experienced tragedy and are resourceful and strong women.
I have formed deep friendships with these women and recognise their creativity, resilience and courage. We have responded separately to an embroidery in the Gawthorpe Textiles Collection which was made by unknown refugee women in Greece in 1900, in a school organised by Lady Egerton wife of the British Ambassador andsupervised by Louisa Pesel.
Louisa Pesel (1870-1947) was the Director of the Royal Hellenic School of Needlework and Laces in Athens. She was elected the first President of the Embroiderers Guild in England and appointed Mistress of Broderers of Winchester Cathedral. She was local to Gawthorpe, growing up in Bradford, attending Bradford Girls’ Grammar School and studying at the Royal College of Art. There is a synchronicity in our livessince I was born and still live in Winchester and am also President of the Embroiderers Guild. My own connections with Greece are strong, my father-in-law was a political migrant to the UK, post Second World War. His family had left as migrants from Cyprus to Athens at a previous time of conflict, they may well have been amongst the refugees that Louisa Pesel worked with.
I returned to Greece to work with refugees in 2018 for the project Thread Bearing Witness, which Asmaa, Nahome and Susan also participated in. In these new panels for the Janina screen we draw upon our cultural heritage and individual creative voices.
‘I learnt to stitch at school and at home with my mother. I can stitch at home here in England, it connects me with my family.’
‘My artwork reflects diversity and unity. We are all here to learn from each other.’
‘I feel it represents that life has many different colours, it can’t just be dark. I like the patchwork feel to it as it represents many different stories in life.’
Their works are a rich testimony to their strength through adversity and undiminished vibrant personality. Collectively the work shows embroidery as a common language, where motif and pattern are interpreted as a form of migration from point of origin, to the newly realised panels. The works characterise through the act of co-creation, the interconnected world we chose to live within, one of human dignity and connectivity.
Textiles offer a powerful medium through which to explore themes of cultural heritage, journeys and displacement. Thematerial itself acts as a metaphor for the knotty social bonds that hold us together.Embroidery as a domestic practice can represent home-making, home finding, it is steeped in the history of trade and cultural specifity. The migration of textiles and its patterns are bound into our global and local histories. Indeed textile migrates where people cannot.
As four women we stitch to show that we want to be part of a shared world, connected together through diversity, experience, and shared making.
Caption for images: Janina screen, 5 sections. 2019. 2 by Asmaa, 1 by Nahome Bukasa, Susan Kamara and Alice Kettle. Each panel 100cm W x 200cm H. Thread on linen.
Photo credit: Joe Low