Curated by Murtaza Vali, the Memory is the Seamstress exhibition brings together such artists as Lebohang Kganye, Hangama Amiri, Raed Yassin, Melissa Joseph, Cian Dayrit, and Jagdeep Raina. The show will be on view at Green Art Gallery until 3 November 2023.
The exhibition’s title is inspired by writer Virginia Woolf’s quote in which she compares textile work with memory and its ability to stitch together the fragments of everyday life into a narrative. However, photography has changed our relationship to memory. It has made it easier to record our experiences but weakens our natural ability to remember. The exhibition displays works created by using diverse techniques to translate the photographic into fabric. While some exhibiting artists use the family photo collections to delve into experiences of displacement and loss, others dive into personal and collective archives to explore colonial and postcolonial histories.
Using photo cutouts derived from the images from her family album, Lebohang Kganye narrates personal and collective history. In the exhibition, she is represented by her textile series Mosebetsi wa Dirithi, which introduces us to her family members. These larger-than-life portraits executed in a monochrome palette highlight physical and historical presence countering the violence of apartheid’s erasures.
Hangama Amiri‘s Reminiscences series is based on photos exchanged between her parents when her father worked in Scandinavia and her mother stayed in Tajikistan with the rest of the family. By enlarging these pictures and putting them together employing pieces of fabric, Amiri recovers familial intimacies lost due to conflict and displacement.
Lebanese artist Raed Yassin uses his memories to revive a family archive lost because of displacement. Using a machine, he embroiders scenes of gatherings and celebrations on factory-made fabrics, thus making them feel personal and universal, intimate and mass-produced at the same time. This duality refers to the impossibility of recovering the lost original: a photograph or a memory.
Melissa Joseph creates her felted works through compression. Resulting in flattened forms and softened edges, they mimic memory’s imprecision. The artist frames the images within found objects; each has a particular meaning or/and is significant for her in some way. For example, a vintage stone appam breaks up a portrait of her late father, while an industrial glove cutter is a reference to histories of labour.
Cian Dayrit’s works from his series Fever Dreams of Progress feature photos dating back to the American colonisation of the Philippines. Through these images, he draws attention to the ecological and human costs of capitalist progress. One of his displayed artworks comments on neoliberal developmental policies that parcel agricultural and forest land out to destructive profit-driven industries. The other art piece addresses the Green Revolution. It pushes to industrialise agriculture across the Global South by adopting Western innovations (such as the use of chemical pesticides, for instance) that devastate the environment.
Jagdeep Raina’s embroideries incorporate a disappearing traditional style of phulkari practised in the Punjab region (India). He often includes swatches of traditional motifs at the bottom of his artworks. They depict scenes of farmers working in the fields or a close-up of a pair of hands picking cotton. Photographs appear as objects in Raina’s other art pieces, held up by those who witness injustice and greed.
About the participating artists
Artist and photographer Lebohang Kganye was born in 1990 in Johannesburg (South Africa), where she still resides. She explores her family stories by looking into old photo albums and recording oral stories told by her family members. Aiming to “transform photography as a meeting place between generations”, she focuses on such themes as affiliations, memory, and fiction. In her practice, Kganye also examines South African political and economic history.
Hangama Amiri (b. 1989, Peshawar, Afghanistan) is an Afghan-Canadian artist whose practice encompasses painting, printmaking, and working with fabrics. Her large-scale textile works are inspired by the colours and fabrics she remembers in Kabul’s bazaars and on its streets. Her work focuses on cross-cultural dialogue and women’s rights and reflects on how everyday objects bear cultural memory.
Raed Yassin (b. 1979, Beirut, Lebanon) is an artist and musician who lives and works between his hometown and Amsterdam. Employing images, music, video, and text, he explores diverse themes: pop culture, urban existence, art history, Arabic cinema, archives, and many others. Through the lens of consumer culture and mass production, the artist examines his narratives and their position within a collective history.
Melissa Joseph is a New York-based artist and independent curator interested in connecting people through shared memories and experiences. She concentrates on such themes as memory, family history, and the politics of how we occupy physical and emotional spaces. The artist’s works speak about her experiences as a first-generation American (her father emigrated from India) and diasporic life.
Cian Dayrit (b. 1989, Manila, Philippines) is a multimedia artist who lives and works in Rizal (Philippines). In his practice, which deploys embroidery, painting, sculpting, and installation, he investigates the Philippines’ experiences of colonialism and delves into ethnography, archaeology, politics, history, and mythology.
Jagdeep Raina (b. 1991, Guelph, Ontario, Canada) resides in Houston (Texas, USA). His practice involves textile, weaving, drawing, writing, ceramics, 35mm film, and video animation. Raina uses the archive to explore historical memory and examines histories of transnational migration and mobility and their effects on contemporary life. The artist’s creations depict and reimagine stories and scenes across the Kashmiri and Punjabi diasporas.
To learn more about the Memory is the Seamstress exhibition, please visit its official web page.
You might also be interested in attending Silent Hands, a group show at Hayy Jameel.