The Art of Survival, Fabric Images of Women's Daily Lives

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The Art of Survival, Fabric Images of Women's Daily Lives

    The Art of Survival, Fabric Images of Women‟s Daily Lives

    An International Exhibition of Frauen in Einen Welt (Women in One World)

    permanently housed in

    The Regional and International Museum of Women‟s Culture

    Castle Marstall des Burgfarrnbacher, Schlosshof 23, 90768 Furth, Germany

    Conceived and produced by Gaby Franger and Ragnhild von Studnitz (†).

    Sewing, knitting and weaving cloth has been one of women‘s particular activities from the earliest times and in most civilizations. In myths, in fairy tales, in pictures and other representations, and in language, there are references to the power of women associated with their ability and skill to hold and weave the threads in their hands. The knowledge that they gained while spinning, weaving and knitting led to the development of machines, from the spinning wheel to the ―Spinning Jenny‖, the first industrial spinning machine which signaled the beginning of the industrial revolution. Today multinational companies utilize the sewing skills of women to produce commercial textiles for the whole world market sometimes

    exploiting them shamefully.

    Most of the daily work done by women is carried out in the home rather than in the formal business world. They therefore have neither social security, direct financial gain nor recognition. The women often take their creative products to sell in the local market in order to feed their families. However, their work is not considered valuable enough to be included in the gross national product of a country, whether poor or rich. Despite this, it is their work that ensures the survival of their families.

    Their handiwork is, in reality, part of their very being and often reflects stories from their lives. By meeting each other, women built bridges of understanding over the deep rifts that divide our world. They learn to regard each other with mutual respect and also develop an appreciation and respect for different cultures, varying perspectives and styles. An exhibition like this also helps draw attention to the lives and work of women.

Knitting Stories Knotting nets Spinning Threads

    Every project has its history and develops its own dynamism, which sometimes surpasses even the wildest imagination of its initiators. The traveling exhibition The Art of Survival: Fabric Images of Women’s Daily Lives and its catalogue

    are a product of the joy derived from woven textiles, of the fascination with the manifold possibilities and potentialities of textile designing, which contain in themselves the impress of daily living, work burdens, pressures and creativity. They exist as embroidered, knitted, appliquéd, quilted stories, both personal and collective of women. They also express the poverty and repression endured by these women as well as their will to live and resist.

    The information contained in this presentation has been taken from the catalogue to this exhibition and conversations with the actual curator and other women members of Women in One World.

And now to Derry

On the occasion of the 2008 International Women‘s Day in March 2008, we have

    the privilege of having a substantial part of the German international exhibition in the City of Derry under the auspices of the Heritage & Museum Service and The Junction. The sample has been chosen with careful regard to the initial concept of the curators who set up the exhibition. It is being housed in the Tower Museum in the city.

    At the same time, Irish quilts will also be exhibited with the aim of complementing, and in tune with, the German exhibition. They will be placed in other museums and different public spaces around the city. These locations are included in the trail brochure guide to both components.

    Roberta Bacic, Guest curator

The Art of Survival (from the catalogue)

    size in meters page List of exhibition pieces

    1 Palestinian Embroidery, The Society of In‟ash El 0,77 x 0,91 30 Usra, El-Bireh, Palestine

    2 Arpillera, Kuyanakuy, Displaced women of 1,70 x 2,82 ; Peru: Yesterday and today

    3 Quilt, Gamfacauca, Indigenous women of 0,86 x 0,70 76 Cauca, Colombia, Women’s strategies against poverty in our province

    4 Knitting, Chitzanzara, Zimbabwe, A man with 0.90 x 0,73 113 three wives

    5 Uiguri Quilt, by Haliman, from Kazakhistan 0,90 x 1,12 18 6 Quilt, Runyange Group, Weya, Zimbabwe, The 0,90 x 1,60 122 love potion

    7 Quilt, Kushinga Group, Weya , Zimbabwe, The 0,89 x 1,62 123; Tribulation of Mrs. Rumbidzai,

    8 Quilt, Quilting Bee, Herzogenaurach, Germany, 1,11 x 1,41 41 What does the world need to survive?

    9 Quilt, A collective work from asylum seekers in 1,32 x 2,01 159 Germany, A Picture of Home A picture of Germany

    10 Mola, Kuna Yala, Panama, Saving traditions of 1,07x 0.92 142; our people

    11 Quilt, Women refugees, Ariadna project, 1,20 x 0,99 155; Rijeka, Croatia, The house we had to leave

    12 Quilt/Arpillera, Mujeres Creativas group, Lima, 1,48 x 1,21 75 Peru, Survival Strategies

    13 Embroidery, Llully Cooperative, Puno, Peru, 1,18 x 1,28 85 Our life in July

    14 Quilt, Ms. Kalyani Pramod, Madras, India, 1,13 x 0,93 27 Survival in daily life

    15 Quilt, Mariela Ochoa a refugee from Peru in 1,33 x 1,04 23 Bolivia, Of Life and survival

    16 Embroidery, Moytamadea Project, Egypt, 1,50 x 1,55 106, Living on the garbage hills of Cairo 107; 17 Quilt, Culture Bridge, for migrant women, 1,42 x 1,46 162; Fürth, Germany, Our fate, made by Turkish brides

    18 Quilt, Women of Colour Quilters‟ Network, 2,00 x 1,62 103 USA, Circle of Sacred Sisters

    19 Quilt, Mrs. Saroj a working class woman and 1,83 x 0,73 150 fabric artist, Gujarat, India, Civil War

    20 Quilt, Mrs. Saroj a working class woman and 1,88 x 0,74 151 fabric artist, Gujarat, India, Living Together

    21. Quilt, A Tivaevae quilt from Rarotonga Cook 2,20 x 2,40 19 Islands, Remembering our ancestors

    22 Embroidered Godon, cooperative of 1,43 x 2,60 86; Embroidery Studies, Kabalye in N‟Djaména,


    23 Quilt, Charlotte Callahan, originally from 0.40 x 0.82 49 Germany. Ohio, USA, As a War Bride to USA

    24 Quilt, done for the Women„s World 2,80 x 3,30 56; Conference in Beijing, made by women

    participating in the project The Art of Survival, of

    `Women in One World in May 1995 in Nürnberg

Quilt 1

The Society of In‟ash El-Usra

Palestinan Embroidery

Example of Cultural Survival Art

El-Bireh, Palestine

    Palestinian women in the northern part of the country must help their husbands in the field and thus have little time for embroidery. In the middle and southern parts of the country, though, the villages are more prosperous and women have more time to embroider. Here, women and girls gather together in their orchards where the young girls work to embroider their thobes (dresses) before they get married. This process takes four to six months and six hours of work a day.

The Society of In‘ash El-Usra, which worked to make this quilt, is a women‘s

    organisation which was established in 1965 in El-Bireh with the aim of raising the standard of living of Palestinian women on the one hand, and serving the various sectors of the community on the other. So the Society is training women who may choose one of six different vocations, from knitting and embroidery to secretarial work and nursing.

    Most Palestinian embroidery is done in cross stitch with floral, animal and bird motifs. Sometimes geometrical motifs are also used. At times, a particular design is repeated to fill a large area of fabric with solid embroidery. Contrasting colours are used in a combination of shades to produce a beautiful variegated effect. Some women work with vivid colours and motifs that bring to mind the culture of particular regions of Palestine. Usually cotton thread and fabric are used. Since both material and thread are tough, the embroidered pieces will last for generations.

0,77 x 0,91 (in meters)

Quilt 2


Yesterday - Today

    A three dimensional arpillera by displaced Andean women depicting their life in the present, contrasted with their life in the past


    The women who made this arpillera belong to a group of displaced women who had to leave their villages in the Andean mountains. In the section Ayer (yesterday), they depict

    from memory life in their villages during the time of the war between the government and the Maoists of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). In the section Hoy (today), they

    depict how they are building a new life in Pamplona Alta, a poor district in the capital of Lima.

As they themselves say: "Yesterday we lost everything and had to leave it all behind us to

    save our lives. We had to leave our families, houses, animals, land and much more. We lost everything and had to start a new life from scratch."

    This arpillera was made by the women's collective Asociación Kuyanakuy. It was first presented to the Peruvian Truth Commission on 1 May 2002. In June, the women brought it back to their headquarters where they held a 24 hour vigil.

    In August 2006 this powerful Peruvian arpillera came across the ocean for the first time to Ireland, where it was exhibited at the West Belfast Festival. It then travelled around Ireland and other countries. The effect it had on the people who saw it inspired this very project of bringing together international and Irish quilts that would "talk to each other" and portray the way women around the world survive during conflict -- often by way of working with cloth and thread.

1,70 x 2,82

     note: Photo by Gaby Franger taken at the headquarters of Asociación Kuyanakuy in June 2002

Quilt 3

Gamfacauca: Indigenous Women

Women’s Strategies Against Poverty in Our Province

Example of Life in the Province

Cauca, Colombia

    Gamfacauca is a non-profit group of indigenous women and farmers in the region of Cauca in Colombia. Their most important goal is to improve the quality of life of local farming families where, in many cases, the women are the heads of the household. Many of the women work at home so that they may work on their handicrafts, even as they carry out their responsibilities to their families and to their fields.

    For the exhibition, the group has produced an Arpillera about life in their province. The exhibition was very appealing to Gamfacauca since the survival of their families stands fundamentally threatened by the existing economic conditions. Their handiwork, in which old traditional techniques survive, is not dominated by the commercial aspect. It is important for the women in Colombia to preserve knowledge on the use of local raw materials and traditional technologies, for example, the extraction of colours from plants, roots and fruits. These are parts of their traditions and the religious rites of their ancestors.

0,86 x 0,70

Quilt 4

Chitsanzara Knitting Group

A Man with Three Wives

Knitted Scenes of Family Life

Rusape, Zimbabwe

    The Chitsanzara Knitting Group comprises forty-eight women from 18 to 65 years.

    The women live with their families in Epifany close to Ruape, a small town about 200 km east of Harare. They cultivate the ‗plots‘ that they have leased from one of the oldest Anglican missions in Zimbabwe. The families live mainly off of their harvest yields, which must last till the following year. As the men seldom find employment in the villages, they often live in distant cities and send very little money home, if at all. The actual responsibility of running the family is borne by women. They do all the work, often with help from the children. The women gather wood at sunrise or even earlier, fetch water, make tea and porridge (from maize) for the children, plough the fields, then sow, weed, harvest and pick the fruit.

    The women of the knitting group try to portray their living conditions and their traditional culture through their work. They do not work from pre-designed patterns or sketches. Often an idea or an image is directly knitted into the required design and representation. This is why each of their products is unique.

0,90 x 0,73

1. Three wives are outside their houses.

    2. They are going to the fields. Two of them are pregnant.

    3. Poor children are playing outside, while father is talking to the mother. She is

    cooking sadza.

    4. Father is beating one wife with a loop. The two other wives are going and the

    children are playing.

    5. One wife is divorced and goes home with her two sons.

    6. The two wives are suffering. The father is herding the cattle. One wife goes to

    the clinic to deliver her baby, the other one goes to sell her knitted things. 7. The divorced wife talks to her mother about her home affairs. The father comes

    back to collect his wife. After discussions, the wife goes back again. 8. The wife who was selling her knitted things now has money to look after her


    9. The father talks to the children while the wives are looking after the household,

    collecting firewood, and taking care of the baby.

Quilt 5


Uiguri Quilt

Example of the Traditional “Pineapple Pattern”


    At an exhibition of handicrafts made by the peoples of Kazakhistan held in Almaty, the curators of this exhibition found an old Uigurian quilt with the characteristic ―pineapple pattern‖ that is well-known to all quilt makers. Curious to know if such quilts were still being made, the curators sought out two traditional quilt makers from Druzba, in the district of Almaty.

    Haliman sewed the Uiguri Quilt for this exhibition as a child‘s bed quilt. She has been working for 25 years as a saleswoman in a department store. She sews quilts at home with her niece. She is self-taught and does not seem to be familiar with traditional patterns. Her work often consists of vivid, bright colours. Her first quilt was made at the age of 16. Today, she takes orders. She chose the pineapple pattern for this quilt, though the curators of this exhibition told her nothing of the old quilt they found at the handicraft exhibition. The Uiguran women make quilts with other patterns as well: geometrical figures, flowers, birds, suns, moons, and pumpkins.

0,90 x 1,12

Quilt 6

Runyange Group

The Love Potion

Example of a Narrative Quilt

Weya, Zimbabwe

    Weya Art refers to the art of the peasant women of Weya Communal Land, which is found in the periphery of the Makoni District in Zimbabwe. It is one of the least developed regions in terms of both public and private infrastructure such as schools, medical centres and transport services. Weya Art, a naïve, narrative type of brightly coloured art work on fabricated plywood and fabric was originally developed through the services of a German volunteer. Weya Art may be worked at in a variety of mediums: through painting, sadza painting (batik), graphics, embroidery and appliqué.

    This piece tells the story of a young woman who married and then became pregnant. Her husband, who went to work in Harare, would beat her whenever he came home. One day, she found her husband with another woman. The two women fought, and her husband‘s mistress poured boiling water upon her. Rather than come to his wife‘s aid,

    though, her husband threw her out of the house. During the time of their separation, the young woman gave birth to twins. When the husband came to see his children, she asked him for money to help support the children, but he only responded by beating her once more. Desperate, the young woman approached a certain old lady to ask her for a Mupfuhwira, or love potion, that her husband might love her again and their family might be reunited. The love potion, alas, turned out to be poison, and the husband died. At a loss, the woman turned to her aunt, who told her about a group of women who met together once a week to talk and to help each other with financial and other troubles. Eventually, the woman was able to send her children to school. She finally came to realize that life without a husband was agreeable.

0,90 x 1,60

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