Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Do you ever borrow from other cultures in your work?

Personal Language: Millennium Journal (stitched 2006)

I’ve felt so much power within the art from other cultures that I’ve wanted to have that same kind of power in my own work. I taught myself how to dye, paint and print fabrics like they do in Japan, Australia, or Africa, and how they do mirror and kantha embroidery in India and Pakistan. I was looking for a way to have my own work enter the intuitive and abstract.

I admit that I felt that these ways of working were available to me to use in my art just as much as the western realist tradition was available to me. From the very beginning of my quilt making I realised that all those triangles and squares and circles have been around the world FOREVER as a language. They were not used as much in the ‘civilised’ world of Greek/Renaissance tradition. Those repeated geometric shapes are the basis of traditional quilt pattern. I was able to understand my own tradition of north American quilt design better by learning the variety of meanings the shapes had in other cultures. I’ve used these first shapes like a code.

It’s that secret language that I love about primitive art. However, I see now that in a modernist sense, what I was doing was using the ‘other’ way of seeing the world. I still want to continue to borrow repeated arrangements of first shapes and shiny surfaces because I believe it to be a multicultural language that can be understood by all of us in the world. Aren’t we are all ethnic?


  1. Most definately! Although I don't think any culture can claim particular symbols as exclusively theirs.'Civilisation on Loan' by Heinz Edgar Kiewe which tracks the spread of ideas and inventions from East to West has influenced me a lot ( signed copy bought by my mother in the 1980's) and more recently Sheila Paines 'Embroidered Textiles' with its emphasis on symbolism.
    I would say what is important is that the symbols and shapes used mean something to you personally, as Alison Schwabe says on her website in her 'pet peeves':
    " I always design from what I have experienced, rarely anything pictorial, but mostly wrapping up that real experience in an abstract of shape or pattern, this then expressed in groups of colours I associate with that experience."

  2. Sheila Paine's books have had a huge influence on me. Her book Embroidered Textiles opened a door on symbolism in world embroidery when it first came out in the early 90's. Another book I like is a children's book called 'First Shapes'. I still refer to it, and use it when I teach. Jung also thought of simple geometrics as humanity's first shapes which are universal.


Thank you for taking the time to connect. Much appreciated.xx