Saturday, November 26, 2011

altered items.

The comment under my previous post stems from a reply I left here, on a blog post about altering an Uzbek suzani.
We are very used to repurposing older items in our craft work these days - its a good recycling habit to get into and results in some wonderful work.
A suzani is an embroidered piece of cloth used as a prayer mat. These are/were hand embroidered by the women of the household for their menfolk, usually by candle light, and over many, many months, and are incredible works of art in their own right. They can be made up of several pieces of cloth as each woman took a bit and helped with the labour. Many of those turning up on Ebay are from the 60s and 70s and are not of the best quality, unlike those you would find in the Washington Textile Museum, however they are a record of a way of life that is fast vanishing, and are being sold by dealers who see a dollar in them.
Because of their age, the fabric is often faded and some of the embroidery may be torn. Its a bit like the old family bible with its dog-eared pages where our grandparents recorded the family history. Even if we no longer go to church, it has a place in our own family's history, and small folk museums around the western world treasure these items precisly because of this.
How would we feel if someone took that bible and gesso'd over the pages to make an altered book? It becomes a bit of our own heritage that cannot be replaced.
Its the same with the suzanis, and other items coming from what were once Iron Curtain countries. These are not the belongings of princes or presidents, but of nomadic and tribal people who still cling to old fashioned and traditional ways. The younger generations and those who live in the cities have, for the main part, abandoned those ways, and now trade their family heritage often for basic necessities like food and clothing, but sometimes for i-Pods, i-Phones and i-Pads and other western goodies that we have already thrown away because they are not the latest version.
I'm not saying we should never destroy these beautiful fragments of fabric. Its not my place, and I will not impose my values on anyone else, but I do ask that before dyeing, colouring, taking the scissors to, or otherwise altering these items, that we think about their other value, the piece of history we are about to delete, and consider whether using it as a template for what we want to do would be a better option. The imperfections we see in them are part of their value; the fading of the cloth, the stitching that is precariously still holding together, the wear and tear of ordinary life.
We also work with our hands to create things of beauty, using archival materials so they could in theory be preserved for posterity, even though we are quite likely to gesso over that work down the track. But once we have altered a piece of vintage hand embroidered fabric, it will never be the same again, and is just another piece of someone's heritage and craft work that will have gone forever.