Friday, 6 January 2012

The King's House:what goes around comes around

I, for several reasons, do not believe (much), in 'New Year's Resolutions'. One of them being that there are
 lots of NewYears according to different cultures and countries and that even in 'our own Western'
convention, the beginning of the year hasn't always coincided with the 1st of January.

Nevertheless, I do believe in new beginnings, in giving yourself the chance to start all over again, even if just for a day.
A chance to reconnect with the past, reflect upon it and carry it forward towards the future.

All this to say, that I have been away (from the blog) for a while, and that I am taking the occasion of the New Year, or to be more precise, of the Epiphany (an occasion as good as any) to pull the threads of my thoughts together and tell you yet another story.
I was meant to update you on the Black History Day jointly organized by Barnet Council and the African Cultural Association that took place in the Hendon Library on the 29th of October, in which I had the pleasure and the honour to take part. Being October, it was the Autumn as well as last year.  So now that we are in the deep mid-winter and at the beginning of a new year it may be pleasant to be reminded of that:
It was a quiet (well, apart from a few drums being played loudly at times), joyful occasion, with people from different backgrounds meeting together. Above you can see a member of the staff library dancing to the rhythm of the drums alongside a member of the public to her right and an ACA member to her left.

And below you can see the talented drum player, performer and African dance workshop facilitator

Grandmother Ine, ACA Trustee,dressmaker and embroidery student, busy dancing 
Obviously there was much more to the event (including talks by British-African authors), but here I am concentrating on the bits most relevant to me.

My being there was due to having joined the association first as a trainee dress-maker, and then as a volunteer embroidery-craft teacher.
My little stall where embroidery demonstrations were being held
It was truly a multicultural, inclusive event without any rhetoric, and I was lucky enough to experience some very peculiar moments, such as when  I learned an 'Indian' technique of doing 'satin' stitch whilst trying to teach embroidery to a boy of South Asian descent (via Africa and Britain) who wanted to have a go.

I believe that this is akin to 'rumanian stitch,' as you fix the satin stitch in the middle with a little slanted straight stitch, to try and keep the tension even.
The whole family could not stay long as they were off to celebrate a party they had been invited to (It happened to be Diwali too, on that day).

Traditional African Hair-Braiding stall run by the brilliant Komkom

Traditional craft and mask-making classes for kids being advertised
The 'embroidery desk' was also run by the extremely talented African Embroidery artist Carolyn Akullu-Ocwet, whose work was also on show

Some more of the traditional crafts display, which included dresses and bags

The dresses and bags on show, included the ones in the picture above (displayed over a kente cloth background) which were recently brought back from a trip to Ghana, showing new techniques being applied to traditional crafts/fabrics), a trend that goes both ways and it has been highlighted in its diaspora dimension in a piece of research  by Textile Museum's curator Dr. Diana N'Diaye. anArtCulture.html

which brings me back to the title of this post:

One of my first attempt at dressmaking was a gown which evolved from the traditional kaftan model

details of the fabric with traditional printed motifs

And a pair of pijama trousers, also made with a fabric printed with traditional motifs

That wasn't a deliberate choice. I bought the fabric from the lovely array of  African material available at the ACA at very reasonable prices.  And later on I realised that the 'flying ducks' motif ('A hen fye' or 'The King's House') is the same that can be seen on the leaflet cover produced for the exhibition 'Fabric of a Nation' that was held first at the British Museum to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ghana independence as a country, in 2007 and then went on to tour Britain as a travelling exhibition.  It focuses on the importance that cloth  has in Ghanaian Culture
The thought that one of my first humble attempts at making clothes implied using fabric that was being displayed and celebrated in a museum's exhibition made me feel proud and at the same time think about how truthful is the process described in James Clifford's book ' The predicament of culture' in which objects acquire value through becoming 'museum's objects.' I wouldn't be able to afford a designer's fabric, but I was able through the vagaries of post-colonialism, cultural policy and my life to wear a piece or two, from the 'kings house'.

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