The World is a Handkerchief : A Traveling Project by Claudia DeMonte & Cecilia Mandrile

Page 1

The World is a Handkerchief A Travelling Project by Claudia DeMonte & Cecilia Mandrile

Foreword by Gill Saunders

The World is a Handkerchief Impact Press, UWE Bristol, UK, 2019 ISBN: 978-1-906501-14-3 Project concept © Claudia DeMonte & Cecilia Mandrile Essay © Gill Saunders Artworks © Individual artists Edition of 300

Printed in Slovenia by Oddi Printing


The World is a Handkerchief El mundo es un PaĂąuelo

The World is a Handkerchief Gill Saunders


n 2009, Hedayat Osyan left Afghanistan as a refugee seeking asylum. He carried with him two tokens of the home and family he was leaving behind: his mother’s ring and a traditional embroidered Hazara handkerchief made by his sister. After a difficult journey via Indonesia, and the offshore Australian territory Christmas Island, he was finally transferred to Australia where he was granted the right to remain, and now lives in Sydney. He has donated the ring and the handkerchief to the Australian National Maritime Museum, where they have joined the collections representing stories of immigration and settlement. Such modest pieces of cloth are evocative symbols of migration, memory, family and cultural identity. Tactile and portable, they are intricately connected. Osyan’s handkerchief was a source of comfort and connection, a familiar everyday object, and now in the Museum’s collection, it is a potent and poignant symbol of his journey that links his past and present. Also, in the museum’s collection is another handkerchief which served as a talisman for its owner, Valerie Lederer. Made of white lace, with a pale blue star at the centre, this handkerchief was one of the good luck charms that Valerie carried with her when she and her husband Arthur escaped Nazi persecution in Austria in December 1938. Leaving in haste, they could take few personal belongings with them beyond those things they could carry easily. Again, a handkerchief connects life before and after a dramatic dislocation. Once ubiquitous, the plain, printed or embroidered handkerchief was carried by everyone, its practical purposes supplemented by personal associations – love token, gift, signal of political allegiance or spiritual belief, and a kind of tangible memento. In their collaborative project, The World is a Handkerchief (in Spanish, ‘el mundo es un pañuelo’ which translates as ‘what a small world’) artists Cecilia Mandrile and Claudia DeMonte have taken the handkerchief as their canvas to explore these multiple meanings, and invited others to contribute their own interpretations of the brief to narratives of place and personal history. 3

Mandrile has for many years made small portable paper or fabric pieces – ID cards, paper boats, dolls – and in ‘Private Rains’ (2001) she printed a manipulated self-portrait (a recurrent motif in her work) in black and sepia onto white cotton handkerchiefs. These handkerchiefs were carried with her and installed in several places; over time she submerged them in water, exposed them to rain, alternately hiding and exhibiting them until the duotone inkjet inks faded, the sepia washing away and the black remaining, a delicate metaphor for ageing and changing. The title ‘private rains’ also suggests tears; used for wiping away tears, the handkerchief has long been an emblem both of grief and of consolation. And why do we cry? We cry when we are bereaved, but also when we must part from our loved ones for an unknown period of time. Separation, loneliness, uncertainty, fear, often precipitated by traumatic events – wars, deaths, persecution - mark the lives of the migrant and the refugee. In these circumstances a handkerchief is both a practical comforter and a small thread of connection between the one who leaves and those who stay behind. In Mandrile’s work, too, imprinted with her own face, blurred as if seen through tears and marked by the experiences, good and bad, of the exile and the nomad, we are reminded of that confected symbol of faith and consolation, ‘Veronica’s Veil’. According to legend, this piece of white cloth, a veil or a handkerchief, was used by Christ to wipe his face as he sweated and stumbled under the weight of the cross; the cloth retained an image of his face, a true likeness or ‘vera icon’. In the works that comprise ‘The World is a Handkerchief’ the many connotations of these modest squares of cotton cloth are manifested by artists using printing, painting, drawing, embroidery and collage. They reflect on displacement and identity, memories of a homeland, with the handkerchief as a vessel for memory, emotion, resistance. For several of the artists, home itself is portable concept, not fixed in place and time, but contingent and mutable. It might be a favourite food, as in Dottie Attie’s sandwich of peanut butter and jelly, or Joy Gregory’s Dutch cooking pot, which makes you feel ‘at home’. For Sarah Bodman, home is embodied in the moment, in the book you are reading, the desk or the chair where you are sitting, the bed in which you sleep and dream (and in dreams of course we cross borders and boundaries, revisiting the past, envisaging the future, untethered…). 4

Likewise, Alicia Candiani, in ‘Mundus’, shows that home is not material, it is not a defined territory, it is rather where you want to be, where your loved ones are, where you can make your life’s work. The work of an artist is an act of imagining, of dreaming, and dreaming is itself the condition of migrancy – it is the dream of a better life, or simply life itself, which spurs the migrant, the refugee, and the asylum seeker, to leave one version of home, hoping and yearning to find another. Home is sanctuary and opportunity. Those who flock to the USA, seeking citizenship despite the obstacles, the dangers, the chances of failure, are chasing that chimera, the ‘American Dream’. Their undocumented children are now ‘Dreamers’, hoping to belong in the only place that they know as home. This idea, this experience of migration, is explored in Alicia Paz’s fugitive ‘Dreamer’, a face (an African mask) printed in fading watery blues, alluding to the long history of African migration (enforced or chosen) across the world’s rivers and oceans to the Americas, the Caribbean, and to Europe. Paz’s handkerchief is a memorial to those who perished in the attempt, as they do still today. What impels such dangerous journeys is hope, but for Sofia Torres Kosiba, hope is a treacherous state of mind; hope traps the body in what she calls a ‘waiting situation’; it deceives the mind into thinking that there is something better to come. She suggests that for most this a false hope, destined to be disappointed. For Firooz Zahedi, the handkerchief is an emblem of mourning for the loss of his mother(land), Iran. He gives voice to the idea that one’s core identity is thrown into flux (new countries, new cities, new loves) by the migrant experience, but at the heart of the matter (and here in the centre of the handkerchief’s design) is family. This is reiterated by others, notably Aaron Yassin whose design is a collaboration with his wife and children; they have created a tangible symbol for the bond of family, underlining the idea that family equals home. Home is also defined by language – a ‘mother tongue’. Guler Ates has transcribed and layered texts – in Turkish and Zazaca – which recount the memories and emotional encounters of three London-based immigrants from Eastern Turkey (herself included). In doing so she reflects on the common experience of modern-day refugees, their words echoing one another, or in places obscuring one another, as things get lost in translation or are simply drowned out by a world which 5

prefers not to hear the shocking realities of the emigrants’ journeys. For Cecilia Mandrile, in her series Apátrida (‘Stateless’) the handkerchief is a little foldable world, in each of which she has placed a small huddled figure, always at the edge (‘the border’); these figures are ambiguous, resembling shrouded bodies or swaddled babies, or perhaps a cocoon, a chrysalis in which the dormant figure is poised for transformation, on the point of escaping from the limbo of transit into the safety of arrival. The handkerchief becomes a soft welcoming refuge, a temporary respite for the refugee whose fate is literally in the hands of others. Home is also explored as a cultural concept, experienced very differently in modern Western societies than in the nomadic tradition. Eiman Elgibreen used her own experience of homesickness to wonder how others in diasporic communities might negotiate their condition of constant dislocation. She imagines the women of Saudi Arabia in the 1930s, wearing a traditional outer dress, a version of the all-enveloping niqab, which becomes a ‘mobile home’ affording them privacy and protection outside the physical space of home. For others such as Eva Lundsager, home is larger than the specific and the personal - it is the planet we live on, fragile and fugitive, the place we must protect from the consequences of our own destructive life-styles – of which travel is one significantly damaging factor. It is this sense of our small world as a network of community and sharing, of an essential interconnectedness and interdependency, that is the message of Erica Naito’s delicate skein of entwined threads. The printed handkerchief, as the carrier of a political message, also has a long history. In the 18th and 19th centuries handkerchiefs were commonly printed with topical or commemorative designs – celebrating Royal marriages, famous battles, and anniversaries, or carrying useful information such as calendars and maps. They were also used to promote political campaigns, or to signify a personal allegiance to a candidate or a cause. Sometimes this could be subtly subversive. It is this tradition that Marisa Telleria references in her piece, ‘The Weight of Colours’. Her home country, Nicaragua, has experienced severe repression and human rights abuses under the narco-dictatorship of 6

Ortega Murillo. All forms of protest are prohibited including the use of the national flag, diagonally divided into white and blue, a ‘flag’ of resistance that can also, like a handkerchief, be used to hide the face – simultaneously concealing identity but making the bearer a target for arrest, expulsion or even execution. The frayed edge of the white side of the handkerchief represents the fragile threads that supports this heroic resistance. Resistance is also at the heart of Graciela Sacco’s ‘Bocanada’, a mouth open in a howl of rage, or perhaps a shout of defiance. This motif, which also alludes to hunger and poverty, has been central to the artist’s work for many years, printed on a variety of supports, including her own postage stamps, as reproduced here on a handkerchief. By adopting such fragmented and ambiguous imagery, she approaches political issues obliquely, a necessary precaution in her home country, Argentina, where governments have repeatedly supressed dissidents and denied the public expression of need, pain, anger and loss. The handkerchief, an intimate scrap of cloth, has often been given as a keepsake or love token; Desdemona’s fateful handkerchief, embroidered with strawberries, had been a gift from Othello, and had belonged to his mother. It was an emblem of fidelity, and its loss (theft) in the course of the play symbolises Desdemona’s imagined infidelity. This idea of the handkerchief as token of love and attachment is explored in the motif of the kiss (Betty Tomkins) and the embrace (Joy Brown’s ‘Holding Close’) which feature on several of these handkerchiefs. The right to love whoever we wish is the message of the rainbow coloured pattern on ‘Amor Diverso’ by Chiachio & Giannone, a right which is denied in many parts of the world with the result that many migrants are driven from their homes in search of this freedom. The love of a child for a toy may also shape an identity: Maia Horta celebrates a precious childhood friend, her much-loved much-hugged threadbare teddy who was by her side through many unsettling moves, by embroidering his likeness on a handkerchief.


What this group of works demonstrates, with subtlety and delicate inference, is what unites us and connects us: shared experience, empathy, care, symbolised by the handkerchief that is offered to wipe away tears, to mop a sweating brow, to staunch blood or bind a wound; it may be given to another as a token of love or remembrance, or used as a small flag waved in greeting or farewell. This is beautifully summarised by Claudia DeMonte who has printed her handkerchief with the motif of a hand, densely patterned as if tattooed, with images associated with women, inspired by folk art and the roles of women in contemporary society. The open hand – a gesture of greeting, welcome, blessing – is a powerful sign that reaches across time and place. 3 September 2019

Gill Saunders is Senior Curator, Word & Image Department, Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Her publications include Apocalyptic Wallpaper (Wexner Center, Columbus, Ohio, 1997), Prints Now: Directions and Definitions (V&A, 2006; with Rosie Miles) and In Black and White: Prints from Africa and the Diaspora (V&A, 2013; with Zoe Whitley). Her recent exhibitions include “Surface Noise” (Jerwood Gallery, London,2011), “Recording Britain” (V&A, 2012), a V&A show of prints by Street Artists, which toured Libya in 2012, and ‘Facing History: Contemporary Portraiture’ (V&A, 2015). She is currently working on a history of the poster, to be published in 2020.


A Wandering Genealogy

Claudia DeMonte & Cecilia Mandrile

The World is a Handkerchief is a travelling exhibition rooted in the Spanish saying ‘el mundo es un pañuelo,’ which translates into English as ‘this is such a small world’. The project traces serendipitous encounters, moments of discovering personal connections in distant places or unexpected contexts. This began with our own encounter as mentor and student at the University of Maryland 25 years ago, and has expanded through an international collaborative network of mentors, students and peers. To celebrate this sustained creative dialogue, we decided to develop a portable exhibition of 50 handkerchiefs that explores the meaning of belonging and interconnectedness so tangibly brought about by this Spanish expression. To reconstruct this alternative family composed of artists and collectives from different latitudes and generations over the last two decades, we both printed an edition of 25 handkerchiefs, which we sent out to them along with a blank handkerchief to be intervened upon with their own reflections on home and belonging. From this exchange emerged what we conceive as a ‘wandering genealogy’—a tribute to the strong threads that have woven a shared territory for us as roving artists and educators. Handkerchiefs have accompanied people in celebrations and farewells in many cultures for centuries, offered bodily protection and coverage, and sustained expressions of political tenets and spiritual beliefs. In this project, handkerchiefs become vessels of memories and itinerant narratives; containers of emotions; translators of wounds, signals of ideological resistance. Each piece epitomises a soft space that holds disappearing recollections of homeland as well as reflections on displacement and identity that can be carried as a tangible memento.



Claudia DeMonte | Mano dei Miracoli

Cecilia Mandrile | Apatrida


Artists Victoria Arce Guler Ates Dotty Attie Yuno Baswir Sarah Bodman Stephanie Brody Lederman Joy Brown Alicia Candiani Matt Clay Robinson Chiachio & Giannone Tariq Dajani Mariana Depetris David Driskell Eiman Elgibreen Judy Glantzman Joy Gregory Hiroyuki Hamada Sarah Hinckley Maia Horta Barbara Johnson Laura Sue King Katerina Kyselica Luis Libretti Eva Lundsager Ed McGowin


13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37

Jeannette Montgomery Barron Keith Morrison Erica Naito Eduardo Padilha Carinna & Grace Parraman Alicia Paz Jefferson Pinder Alice Pixley Young Boyo Quintana Rocca Family Alex Rojas Graciela Sacco (In Memoriam) Soffía Sæmundsdóttir Claudia Sbrissa Berty Skuber Marisa Tellería Claudia Terstappen Betty Tompkins Sofia Torres Kosiba Lucrecia Urbano Kay WalkingStick Katarina Wong Aaron Yassin Rossana Zaera Firooz Zahedi

38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62

Victoria Arce | Sinapsis



Guler Ates | Poems (Journey)

Dotty Attie | Peanut Butter and JELLY



Yuno Baswir | Kasih

Sarah Bodman | Where We Live



Stephanie Brody Lederman | Calm Down

Joy Brown | Holding Close




Alicia Candiani | Mundus

Chiachio & Giannone | Amor Diverso



Matthew Clay-Robison | Home

Tariq Dajani | Family



Mariana Depetris | The Little Match Girl (After Durer)

David Driskell | Seeing All



Eiman Elgibreen | Mobile Home (Alice in Wonderland Series)

Judy Glantzman | Black Power Fist



Joy Gregory | Dutch Pot

Hiroyuki Hamada | Homeland in the Martian Sky



Sarah Hinckley | Drift in Different Worlds

Maia Horta | Teddy



Barbara Johnson | Confluence

Laura Sue King | Collapsed Bungalow, Growing Forest



Katerina Kyselica |Healing by Primary Intention (Dictionary of Wounds)

Luis Libretti | Atesoro Lagrimas



Eva Lundsager | Here

Ed McGowin | House Dog



Jeannette Montgomery Barron | Untitled

Keith Morrison | Orchids in Jamaica



Erica Naito | Untitled

Eduardo Padilha | Sinner Man



Carinna & Grace Parraman | Homeward Bound

Alicia Paz | Dreamers



Jefferson Pinder | Veil

Alice Pixley Young | This Gulf Between Us



Boyo Quintana | Migrants

Rocca Family | Repeat After Zizi



Alex Rojas | Dangerous Women

Graciela Sacco | Bocanada



Soffía Sæmundsdóttir | I Hope

Claudia Sbrissa | Paradiso (after Giotto)



Berty Skuber | Challenge

Marisa TellerĂ­a | The Weight of Colors



Claudia Terstappen | Somewhere I Will Meet You

Betty Tompkins | Kiss Hankie



Sofia Torres Kosiba | Hope is My Enemy

Lucrecia Urbano | Naturaleza Artifical



Kay WalkingStick |Bison - Bison

Katarina Wong | The Edge of Home



Aaron Yassin | My Family is My Home

Rossana Zaera | La casa del fin del romance



Firooz Zahedi | Motherland


Acknowledgments From the Americas, to Europe, to the Middle East, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Desert, we wanted to express our heartful appreciation to the participating artists for their warm responses to this dialogue; to Gill Saunders for her generous and insightful foreword to this project; to our life partners, families and dear friends that believed in us and made of this creative exchange the most welcoming refuge. 64

Claudia DeMonte is an artist and curator

that has exhibited extensively internationally. Her work is included in Public and Corporate Collections including the Queens Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Honolulu Museum, Indianapolis Museums, Flint Institute of Art Tucson Museum, Hyatt Regency Hotels, Exxon, Citibank, and Siemens. DeMonte’s work is strongly influenced by her travels to more than one hundred countries and her interest in and collection of outsider art. She is a Professor Emerita/ Distinguished Scholar Teacher University of Maryland. Her international traveling projects include “Women of the World: A Global Collection of Art” and “Real Beauty”.

Cecilia Mandrile is a visual artist whose

print-based wandering practice explores aesthetics of displacement. She has exhibited in prestigious international venues such as The Victoria & Albert Museum, London; El Museo del Barrio, New York; WPA Corcoran, Washington DC; the National Museum of Fine Arts, Buenos Aires, Emilio Caraffa Museum and Genaro Perez Museum, Córdoba, Argentina. Mandrile has been a resident artist at Gasworks Studios, London; Makan, Amman, Jordan, Kala Art Institute, Berkeley, Kunstihoone, Tallinn, Estonia and Ludwig Foundation of Cuba. She holds a PhD from the University of the West of England.

Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.