Thursday, 1 November 2012

Philatelia : the things that we (do) make for love....

This is going to be a very quick post as part of my new resolve to post more and less (more frequent, shorter posts, if this makes sense!)

Once upon a time (did I say shorter somewhere?), I was in a job with which I had a love/hate relationship. Through this job I received lots of letters (with stamps!), many of them from the USA. I didn't want to become a proper stamps collector, but I was nevertheless attracted to and fascinated by those colourful little pieces of paper (after all, they are little, portable, affordable pieces of popular art, that travel a lot, carrying stories on and with them!!!)
So I started to 'hoard' (collect randomly) them with the view to use them later in some kind of textile related project.
At the time the job was giving me a lot of grievance and not much joy, so an idea clicked in my head to make  good of something that was bad. Amongst the few good things there were the stamps, and I was struck by some very beautiful American stamps with a 'love' theme. So the idea of the Love Series jewellery was born.

These are the very first earrings and brooches made with some love stamps

The technique used involved a fabric paper collaged background mounted on heavy Vilene. The stamps were cut and  rearranged, so that the 'L' word wasn't too obvious and I could play a bit with the shapes. Several media were then added, such as gold leaf, paints, sequins and they were finished off with hand and free machine embroidery, jewellery findings and various coats of varnish (acrylic wax). The pieces were for my personal use and turned out surprisingly resilient: the brooch got 'wet' several times, and I had to re-make one of the orange earrings, because I had lost the original.

The background used for the green/turquoise set (again I lost the the brooch and one of the earrings) included some Iranian comics and it was meant as a slightly ironical commentary about the not so loving relationship between the USA and Iran.

Some of the original stamps used for the turquoise set
The last two of the original 'rose love letter' stamps

I have now found other USA Love stamps and I intend to expand, experiment and carry on making more Love stamps jewellery, including necklaces and bracelets, using more media and different jewellery techniques.

For the time being these are some of my new creations based on different stamps and with a different shape but essentially the same technique

Monday, 17 September 2012

To Iran and back once again (for the last time?)

The Azadi (Freedom) Tower, formerly known as Shahyad Aryamehr  or King memorial tower

It is funny how much time has elapsed between my last post on the first trip to Iran and this and  how the 'second instalment' was never published, even if it is there, almost ready and will probably follow this one.

While that one focuses on a particular object (the janamaz I had made for my mother in law, who recently passed away) and explains the reasons behind the title of the post, this post will mainly show some of the photographs, taken in August 2012 whilst in Iran.
Drinking espresso coffee and sour cherry juice in an 'Art' Cafe in Teheran, one of the many cafes where students and couples can go and meet freely without  nobody bothering them.
In this increasing tense international climate I think it's important to show a more realistic and balanced image of the country (even if it is only just glimpses!) and how ordinary people are resorting to creativity in order to gain precious bits of personal freedom.  Due to their history, this is an art in which all Iranians seem to be very skilled.
Iranians are proud of their heritage and  with the future looking more and more uncertain, they prefer to look back to the past to reinforce their sense of identity and find the strength to carry on with their lives in the face of difficult times.
But what past? Where do you draw the line?  Some prefer to look back to the very ancient past, some to the more recent one, especially the younger generations who haven't experienced personally the previous regime. Some regret the ' Arab invasion' but at the same time do not want to reject the whole Islamic culture, and most do prefer a 'middle way' if they can find one (Where does all that fundamentalism come from? I fail to see any trace of it among ordinary people, they seem a rather accommodating and inclusive lot!).
I am by no means qualified to even try and find an answer, I can only share this more than legitimate question, and hope that Iranians will rather find a way and a reason to look to the future. The cry for social justice and technological progress should go hand in hand with the quest for personal and political freedom.
Not that the West has much to teach in that respect!

On the way to Kashan

Service area on the way to Kashan

Main entrance to the Bagh-e-Fin in Kashan, a traditional garden, whose origins go back to the Safavid period.
In this wonderful garden in the city of Kashan, whose main entrance is shown above, there are two main building complexes, one going back to the Safavid dynasty and its main representative Shah Abbas, and the other to the Qajar dynasty. The garden is famous also for being the set of the murder of Amir Kabir the Qajarid chancellor, perpetrated by an assassin hired by the king Nasareddin Shah himself in 1852 (apparently the controversial chancellor was 'too advanced' for the king's liking)
He is now regarded as a symbol and a national hero.
Reconstruction of the murder of Amir Kabir with original objects on display , inside the  bath house (hummam), next to the actual room where the murder was committed.

Channel with fountains

The garden also houses several pools, and a bathhouse (hummam) which take advantage of a sophisticated underground water system that carries water from some nearby mountains to a reservoir and then inside the garden through visible channels and with a pressure sufficient for fountains to spring.
One of the pools

One of the rooms of the Hummum

Even though this year we had a little bit more time to go and see things (as opposed to time devoted to family commitments), it was still very limited and this trip to Kashan (which included a visit to Qom on the same day!)  didn't allow us to explore the place in full.  Kashan is also renowned for many other fine examples of traditional Persian architecture and last but not least is an important textile and carpet centre. With its carpets being among the most prized of the whole Iran.
Model of a traditional loom
Some examples of traditional weaves, patterns and design

Unfortunately this shows only fragments of an immensely rich textile tradition. Some of the patterns can be seen on the decoration of the ceiling, as it often happens that they can be used interchangeably in both textiles and architecture (and I suspect in other materials/ techinques throughout the decorative and applied arts)

Ceiling showing details of the Gol-va Morgh (Flower and Bird) design, one of the most popular and beloved  Persian patterns, frequently used as a decorative motif on carpets.

Detail of the Gol-va-Morgh pattern on a tablecloth

Tablecloth featuring the gol-va- morgh pattern

The same motif can be seen above in one of the very few pieces of textiles I could lay my hands on, a lovely tablecloth that I managed to buy at the last minute!

We did have some time though for a ten minute ride on a horse-driven cart around the compound, with the horse engaging in a whimsical  race against a bike in front of him

Which the girls enjoyed thoroughly!
Sara with cousins Maryam and Mobina

The 'buggy' or doroshkeh decorated with some Qajari imagery

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Before the Fall: The Cover Story

Fabric-paper quilt collage, hand and machine embroidered 45x 52cm
It's time for a reality check. What gave me the idea that I would change my old habits, my perennial twofold attitude towards reality, just because I said so?
I thought I had been posting a lot, or at least that I had lots of posts almost completed, ready to be published, complete with links and matching photographs, plenty of material that just needed a final push of a button (and/or will).
That, of course, had only happened in my head: yes, there are quite a few drafts, but nowhere as nearly ready as I thought they would be. Photos that I thought I had taken aren't there, planned layouts, titles, ideas, just gone, disappeared, never been.
So to help fill in the hiatus between fantasy and reality and start catching up again, I thought  it would be a good idea to tell the story of my new Facebook Cover page, which is in fact the reproduction of my fabric-paper quilt  titled 'Before the Fall'.
I made it, a couple of years ago, to my own deadline: I had the urgency to finish it before the autumn came, I think I made it by November, which is a good achievement by my standards. The title is a word play between the two meanings of Fall, as in both Autumn and an involuntary jump.  Its other titles are 'The Indian Garden'  and the "Blue Poppy" . It was born as a response to the Indian Garden that had been hosted by the British Museum (in collaboration with Kew Gardens) as part of a series of temporary thematic Gardens and Landscapes, often linked to exhibitions and events (in this case the wonderful 'Garden and Cosmos')


The need to make a collage/mixed media quilt about the Indian Garden had more than one reason: I did want to capture the ephemeral beauty of the blue poppy and make it a bit more permanent.
 I wanted to share and prolong the joy that that garden had brought me: in a twisted sort of way, India was what had brought me to the British Museum in the first place and on the wake of an 'Indian Season' and Summer I was going to finish my (long) season there, as my job was due to terminate in the Autumn. I wanted to remind myself how ironic it was that when I finally wanted to stay I had to go (story of my life!)
 It was about India, it featured the quite unique Blue Poppy and the possibility to catch its elusive sight (it didn't last long!) during lunch time, then there was the story of the Mango Tree that actually bore a fruit, right there in the middle of Bloomsbury, an unexpected auspicious present just like the Indian Garden on my 'doorsteps'

I loved several things, the Peepul and the Banyan trees, the spices and herbs, the humble French marigold, the Lotus pond, and so many others, but decided to focus mainly on the blue poppy, which had become a bit of an obsession and therefore had to be the 'focal point'.  I have always loved poppies, their generous beauty, spread casually in the fields for everyone to enjoy: a 'democratic flower', deceptively fragile yet sturdy in its own way.
 This poppy was particularly special too, so I set out studying the best way to reproduce it and do it in my medium of choice.  Collages lend themselves to an instinctive approach, even though an overall plan must be present.
I wanted a lot of yellow/golden tones, to convey the sunny atmosphere (and as a nice contrasting background for the blue flower) reminiscent of India itself. Then the shape had to be right because this wasn't an ordinary poppy but at the same time simple and relatively easy to reproduce in fabric paper and be able to accommodate other materials as well as embroidery.

From the sketchbook

A couple of common poppies had to be present too, because I couldn't resist the idea of a lovely red poppy being there as well, and I could use one that I had made some time before in machine embroidery with soluble fabric

This in turn offered me the opportunity to use some twisted wire (found on my way to the post-room) that was shaped exactly like a stem and that I was able to couch down with some silver metallic thread

Then there was the layering of images relating to India, mainly maps (but I also included some old Middlesex ordnance survey maps, somewhere just as exotic to me that I have come to call home) postal stamps and text. This  was added in different media : ranging from proper collage of photocopied text glued down or cut-outs from food packaging, to special organza inkjet printed and attached to the background.
Detail showing the word Prema (Love) 
Detail showing an old Middlesex ordnance survey map
Details showing an Indian stamp
Indian stamp and food packaging

Title printed on 'Extravaorganza'
Detail of the blue poppy's centre with  ripped velvet stitch
Detail of layers made with different images of  Delhi
The marigold 

flower made with handmade nepali  paper and varnished with acrylic wax
Indian imagery