How to make a tapestry about Islamophobia
I wanted to respond to Islamophobia, one of the great evils of our age. Along with everyone I know, I was horrified by the Christchurch mosque shootings on 15 March, and the following day I was at the Cordis Prize for Tapestry conference, where Lesley Millar was one of the keynote speakers. One of the things she discussed was the work of Norwegian artist Mari Meen Halsøy, who has worked in Beirut, ‘healing’ bullet holes by creating tapestry patches to cover them. I wondered how I could heal the hurt done to Muslims. How can a non-Muslim address this subject in a sensitive way?
I have owned two threadbare prayer rugs for over forty years. They are Turkish kelims, made in the same way tapestries are. Their use for prayer meant that they came to be a symbol of Islam for me. Maybe they could be the start of a work of art on my theme.
I thought about repairing them, metaphorically healing or making reparations to the Muslim community. After many false starts, I remembered the Japanese technique of kintsugi, a way of mending ceramics by using gold to join the broken pieces together. Rather than hiding the fracture, it shows the history of the object, with the breakage undisguised. I decided to use gold linen thread to mend the rugs, rather than trying to do a conventional repair. It would be impossible in any case to restore the rugs to their original state. The mending is in an open weave, distinguishing it from the tighter weave of the original rug. I would also not repair every hole or tear, to show that nothing is perfect, as Islamic rugs deliberately never are, and to metaphorically address the fact that much hurt remains. Besides the gold thread, there will be an additional interweaving of some of the original colours of the rug, in a ghostly repair of some areas.
Another part of this project is that I am collaborating with the original weavers of the rugs, Muslim women. Although separated by time and distance, we have worked on the same pieces to create something together.
The act of weaving itself is about joining and connecting, and repair is about making whole. This becomes a work of art that addresses the issue of Islamophobia by thinking about healing and about connecting with those affected by standing in solidarity with them.
Now I am searching for a title and am asking for suggestions. At the time of the New Zealand mosque tragedy, phrases such as ‘We Stand With You’ and ‘We Stand Together’ were current, which are positive, but I wondered if the latter sounded too much like The Frog Chorus. Or should the title make more of a reference to the weaving and mending?
I continue to work on this project, which is a departure for me, in that it is more conceptual and not the usual starting-from-scratch tapestry. I am working on the first of the two prayer rugs, but still thinking about whether I should do something different with the second. I will report again when the project is completed.