Posts Tagged With: The Earth Project

The Earth Project: Skirt #2

“ I am lying like a lizard on a sunbaked rock, surveying the scene before me. I have never seen a landscape like this before and find myself wondering if this might be how the earth first looked when it was originally formed? It is rocky and rugged and I imagine hot lava forcing its way from the centre of the earth to form the gargantuan boulders that now hunker down around me. I am quite certain that my geology is incorrect, but an artist is allowed to imagine.” An extract from my diary, Kokerboom Kloof, Richtersveld, 2011

In March 2018, when I began looking for imagery to inspire the second skirt of my Earth series, I came upon this picture and remembered that day that I sat on that rock, dreaming about Creation. Only looking at it again, that landscape looked pretty barren, devoid of life and water, which triggered some thoughts about what’s required for new life to begin, which led me to the next stage in the Life Cycle.

Kokerboom Kloof, Richtersveld, South Africa

So, if the first of my dance skirts N/om: The Power, represented the life force, the second, The Creator, represents the Life-giver. She is the explosive spark of creativity; of new life and new ideas; inspired by fertility and the ingredients that make new life possible.

As a season the skirt represents that important time between Winter and Spring, when compost is formed from the debris of the past, providing the rich foundation for life to form and the promise of things to come.

The structure of this skirt was inspired by the Flow; of lava, bringing soil to the earth;

Lava flow

blood, from which fertility and new life arises, air, that enables us to breathe and water that nourishes and sustains us all.

The waterfall

This skirt was also inspired, in both content and appearance, by San aprons and loincloths.

Loincloths and aprons worn by dancers at a wedding I attended in Botswana

One of the most interesting things that I learned during my research of the subject, is that the San believe that the female apron in saturated with supernatural potency (n/om) and is often worn in combination with the male loincloth during the Trance Dance, to boost the power of the shaman when trying to access the spiritual realm. This power is linked to a woman’s fertility, her monthly cycle, which in turn is linked to that of the moon. From their extensive research, Edward and Cathelijne Eastwood have identified several rock art sites in the Limpopo region of South Africa, that contain San paintings of both loincloths and aprons, decorated with spots and spirals, thought to represent the moon. That these images exist on the walls of these intensely sacred sites, suggests that they are of symbolic importance.

So in this skirt, I drew upon this African understanding of male/female potency, and allowed the central leather motif, similar in shape to a male loincloth, to flow over the deep red cloth beneath it, symbolic of the female apron. I appliquéd small shapes that represent male loincloths to the ‘rock face’ on the left of the skirt and female aprons on the right. The intention being that when the skirt is tied at the back, the two will come together, symbolizing the merging of energies that ensure the continuation of life.

The shells, beads and found objects that hang from either end of the skirt, are to make music during the dance.

 

‘The Creator’. The second skirt in my Earth series

I wanted this skirt to be warm, rich, deep and fertile, a positive force for good, so I intuitively reached for the red ochre dye in order to get the colour I felt would capture it. Interestingly, I subsequently learned that red ochre (Hematite, or Iron Oxide, that has accumulated over millennia from decomposing life forms), is the most ancient of ritual substances, symbolically seen as the blood of Mother Earth.  During a trip to Namibia in 2002, I met Himba women, whose bodies were coated in a mixture of red ochre and animal fat and whilst preparing for this project I learned that the same is applied to young San women as they leave their seclusion during their transition rites into womanhood. The mentor scrapes the red mixture off the young woman’s skin and “she may be required to place this mixture in each fireplace in the camp and to touch young men and their weapons to bring luck in hunting”. Edward and Cathelijne Eastwood. In the Eastern Cape, red ochre is used extensively in traditional Xhosa rituals and as far back as 1822, Xhosa speaking people were trading ivory for red ochre powder.

A Himba woman, coated in a mixture of red ochre and animal fat.

The intertwined snakes in the waistband of the skirt, are symbolic of healing, new life and regeneration. My friend, Nozipho, tells me that the appearance of snakes in a traditional African home, is a sign that conception has taken place and that the snakes will reappear when the child is born. “Don’t kill or shout at at them,” she says, “the voice must be soft, so that the respect grounds and calms you. The snakes will connect the two families (clans) together”.

As I look back over what I have written, shifting between inspiration and layers of meaning, I am reminded that the art making process cannot be pinned down, for it is as fluid as the river. This artwork, like compost itself, was born out of layers of life experience.

After finishing the skirt, I read these words of Clarissa Pinkola Estes:

“The river symbolizes a form of feminine largess that arouses, excites, makes passionate… It is the feminine life energy that animates the male principle and the male principle in turn animates action in the world… When a man gives his whole heart, he becomes an amazing force…he becomes fertile, he is invested with feminine powers in a masculine milieu. He carries the seeds for new life…”

…which  lead us to the next skirt in the series…

 

 

Advertisements
Categories: Fibre Art, Inspiration, Projects | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Earth Project: Skirt #1

“ And you are the artist; you hold it all there at arm’s length and fashion it at will. You have direct access to an unlimited source of power. It is a wonderful and terrible feeling”. Lyall Watson

As I sat at my empty desk early in January 2018, all bright and ready to begin work on the first of five African dance skirts, (see my previous post), I felt a little intimidated by the task I had so ambitiously set for myself. The subject of the Nature/Humanity/ Life Cycle is complex and I had no real idea of how I was going to interpret it.

So I did what I always do when trying to make sense of my thoughts, I reached across to a big black sketch book and started to write and draw…which led to cutting and sticking and much digging in my archives, as the ideas started to flow. I found it helped to have a visual document of what was going on in my head, so that I could isolate images, shapes and symbols that would translate well into fabric.

That process took some time, but whilst I was fleshing out my ideas, I began gathering materials and dyeing random bits of cloth that I found in a stash of offcuts.

Bringing drawings to life

As with all my fibre artworks, nothing is ever straight forward and as the piles of materials began to grow, so did the confusion as to what was going to work. I spent much of my time sitting and looking and thinking, trying one thing, abandoning it and trying another. I got fit, jumping up and down on my table as I reached up to the pin board with scraps of cloth, only to take them all down again a few minutes later. And then I would sit and think again.

Such is the process when one doesn’t have a handbook to show you the way. One has to work on instinct and gut reactions, making errors and selecting what works by a process of elimination. And then, just when I thought I had the answers, things would change, new ideas would come and I had no idea where they came from. This is the art of letting go and succumbing to the process. It is the dance of trust between inspiration and artist.

  1. N/OM: THE POWER SKIRT

So today I bring you the first of the dance skirts, the one that led the way. She is both the beginning and end of the Life Cycle and represents the power aspect of the Goddess of Nature. She is the Life-force, (otherwise known as chi, n/om, prana), the powerful energy that flows through all living things, that has the ability to both create and destroy.  In Nature we see this power everywhere; in the eyes of an animal,

A page from my sketchbook, showing the power in the eyes of animals

the force of a storm

Electrical storm over Grahamstown.
Photo credit: Roddy Fox

or in the stillness of a sacred space.

The stillness of a sacred space.
Photo credit: Craig Scott

In an extract from my diary, written at this time, I read:

“A thunderstorm has just crashed overhead with thick, black clouds and booming sound and cracks of lightning that have taken out the electricity. I am reminded that this is exactly the power I am speaking of in this skirt. Awe inspiring, powerful, frightening, destructive, yet life giving and restorative. The rain returns and sounds heavy on the roof. My garden is happy. My dog is scared. And as another bolt of lightning cracks across the city, I am hugely respectful.”

As a season, this skirt represents the Winter, a time when growing things die back and bleakness reigns,

The cold of Winter

but just as the destruction seems forever, the life which simmers on beneath the surface bursts forth again with renewed energy in the creation of Spring.

For centuries, through ritual, prayer and dance, people have attempted to access this power, usually for rain-making, health or fertility. In researching this subject, I was fascinated by the San, who liken this power to electricity, for when harnessed, it can be useful, but uncontrolled, it can be dangerous. The shaman’s task is to harness and control it for the good of the community. In their Trance dances, women sit in a circle around a fire, clapping rhythmically, whilst the men dance around the women, clapping and singing to activate the supernatural potency that resides in the songs and in the shamans themselves. It is said that when the potency ‘boils’ and rises up the shaman’s spines, they enter trance and move into an altered state of consciousness that allow access to the spirit world, and once there, they plead for help on a variety of issues on behalf of the community. On return to the earthly body, the shaman sleeps and on awakening shares this powerful emotional experience with the people, both verbally and visually, through the cave paintings that are thought to have been done during this quiet time of recall.

The San believe that certain animals (eg. eland) are filled with potency, so when they kill such an animal, “… the potency flowed via its blood to the paintings, where it was stored, and then from the paintings to the trancing shamans. Painted sites were thus storehouses of the potency that made contact with the spirit world possible; that guaranteed humankind’s existence by facilitating healing, rainmaking and animal control and that by flowing between nature and people, gathered up all aspects of life in a single spiritual unity.” David Lewis-Williams

For the San, the physical and spiritual realms are completely intertwined, and nowhere do we find more evidence of this than on the rock face within their shelters, where we see these stories unfold.

San paintings in a rock shelter in the Drakensberg

The imagery that I have used in this and subsequent skirts, speaks of the potent sacredness of this humanity/Nature intersection. The symbols I have used reference the San’s connection to the natural world, but in effect, relate to all humanity.

The colours, black, white and red are used in many traditional African cultures and symbolize: Death and destruction (Black), Life, purity and goodness (White), and blood, energy, fertility and the pulse of life (Red).

I have used broken ostrich eggshell in the waistband, another reference to the San, who value the ostrich for its eggs, that provide nourishment and containers for carrying water, and when broken, are made into beads for adornment.

The ostrich and its egg

The central motif may be interpreted as a ‘spine’ through which the supernatural power boils during the trance experience. It can also be seen as the axis mundi, the Tree of Life, as above, so below, the scaffolding that holds us upright. It also references the central pole (Ixhanti) of the Xhosa kraal, onto which the horns of sacrificed cattle are placed and at the base of which, the community lay their offerings to the ancestors.

N/om:The Power
The first in the series of dance skirts that depict the Cycle of Life

So now that my skirt is complete, I sit here absorbing what she has become, and I am amazed at the process that brought her here. She is strong, self assured and calm and it is in the calmness that I feel her power. She has laid the way for the others that are to follow, and I will be bringing you the next one shortly.

Categories: Fibre Art, Inspiration, Projects | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.