my three minutes

Remarks given at the opening reception 8 October 2014 of the exhibition “The Art is the Cloth” at the New Hampshire Institute of Art, Manchester NH:
Science Experiment by Peter HarrisI will welcome your comments and questions about my piece “Science Experiment”, but I’m not going to talk about it right now.  My remarks are for all of us who believe in the work we do.
I’m just now returning from a four-day visit to Delhi, India, where I went to attend another opening reception for a long-time friend.  During earlier travels in India in 1986, my late partner, Ellen Adams and I gave slide-lectures about our work to art students at Santiniketan, the university founded by Tagore, outside Kolkata.  I was interested to learn that one of the textiles students came from a town in north India that was home to a community of rafugars, the embroiderers of Kashmir shawls who would repair the wear and tear discovered each year when people’s shawls were brought out from storage for the winter season.  At the time I didn’t know it but just before that, my interest had been conceived in the twill-tapestry techniques of Kashmir shawl weaving.
Then in 1993, I was in contact with the tapestryweaver Joan Baxter, who said, “that’s funny, I just had a student who came from a town in north India that was home to a community of rafugars, etc.” and gave a different name.  It turned out, of course, that meanwhile this student had married, but she had gone on to study tapestry, inspired by seeing the slides of my work.  There was a wonderful moment when I telephoned this student, while she was still in the U.K., and said, “I think we have met before”.
Since then, she went on to start a family, and also an independent study of the skills and practices of the rafugars, now mostly engaged in reassembling fragments of antique shawls into smaller formats for modern wearers.  At the same time, from my tapestryweaver’s understanding I was able to learn the design and weaving techniques of the traditional Kashmir shawl, from the photographs of antique shawls found in the many lavish coffee-table books on the subject, and I discovered there was a great popular interest in the story of the Kashmir/”paisley” shawl.
For many years now, my friend has been engaged in a struggle with breast cancer which refuses to go away. But she has been fighting it the best way she can, raising her family and presenting her work with the rafugars, just recently at Santiniketan and soon at the 9th International Shibori Symposium in Shanghai, China.  My partner Ellen was able to organize and attend exhibitions of her quilt work in Japan, until a couple of months before her passing from cancer.  These people are my heroes, and they are blessed to have the opportunity and the determination to pursue their work and the meaning of their lives, in the face of their mortality.  Travelling half-way round the world to offer my congratulations, was the least I could do.

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~ by Peter Harris on 14/10/2014.

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