I am taking part in this discussion online: Ekphrasis: Creating Space for Art and Literature
for the O.U.'s Contemporary Cultures of Writing, Tuesday November 1st, 2022 18:00-19:00 GMT. Will talk about creating the book Medusa & her Sisters with poets Natalie Shaw, Sue Rose, Arabella Currie, Catherine Ayres, Jane Burn, Sita Brahmachari, Anoushka Havinden, Wendy Pratt, Rhia Bhatta, Jo Reardon, Emily Hasler, Ramona Herdman, Laura Mckee and Sarah Watkinson.
It's free to join but tickets are apparently going fast! Hope to see you there.
As another strange and fractured year moves onwards, I am hitting an autumnal creative surge. Some people find new momentum in January when the new year begins, for others it is the spring that gets sap rising but for myself, possibly because my birthday falls in the last days of August, autumn is the beginning, a time where there is sufficient energy and hope to make new plans.
This year I am looking at showing my most recent projects: KILLING KEVIN and MANIFESTO FOR A NEW NORMAL in a context that explores the wider traditions of stitching how we feel. The sewing of text is, in some ways, a strange choice. It is labour-intensive - it's certainly quicker to pick up a sharpie and scrawl a note. And embroidery takes the written word out of the journal, off the writing paper and the screen and onto new, potentially incongruous territories. Some time ago, when considering the choice to embroider KILLING KEVIN I wrote that it felt like a no-brainer that ‘these words needed to be pierced…, pulled, looped and tightened – needle-worked into form.' Since I was no seamstress, I had to learn my craft on the job, stitching, unpicking, and re-stitching the fifty-four handkerchiefs that make up this piece. When I worried that my choice was ridiculous, I took heart from Louise Bourgeois’ own handkerchief I HAVE BEEN TO HELL AND BACK. AND LET ME TELL YOU, IT WAS WONDERFUL. If it is good enough for Louise, who was I to argue?
While Killing Kevin told my personal story of cancer treatment, MANIFESTO FOR A NEW NORMAL flowed from our shared experience of the pandemic. People were longing for the life they had lost but there was also a real examining of what they might choose to change once ‘normality’ returned. Be it through #MeToo the response to murders of women on our streets, or #BlackLivesMatter, the toppling of Colston’s statue and protest at the murder of George Floyd; people were looking at the entrenched, the ‘that’s the way things are’ and saying, enough. In my manifesto I focused, once again, on societal shame and the disguises it demands and begets. I declared it was time to ditch this vicious cycle. Stitching for a new life is nothing new for a woman. For centuries mothers expecting a child made their layettes. While brides-to-be and their sisters, aunts, mothers, and grandmothers made linens for their ‘bottom drawers,’ undergarments for their trousseaux and, yes, handkerchiefs, all embroidered with the initials of their owners, who, once transformed by the marriage ritual, could begin life anew. This is why I chose to sew my manifesto demands on christening garments, linens, gloves, and fans.
I am in the early stages of research, but have begun to find some intriguing historic examples of embroidered text, most extraordinary of all is the Elizabeth Parker Sampler, in the V&A's collection - poor girl! Once I have a greater sense of where this autumnal exploration is leading. I will let you know!
The buzz around When Shadows Fall continues:
April 3rd 2022
Sita Brahmachari is speaking at The Oxford Literary Festival
May 2nd 2022
Sita and I are launching RAVEN TREASURE, an art and storytelling extravaganza
at The Tunbridge Wells Literary Festival
When Shadows Fall Paperback Launch
RAVEN TREASURE Sita and I perform our art and storytelling extravaganza at
The official Edinburgh International Festival
booking details TBA
I do not remember when the times we live in were discussed as often as they currently are. Given the lockdowns, isolations, and occasional threats of annihilation that root us so firmly in an uncertain present, the constant analysis is unsurprising and seems to come in three distinct genres.
There’s straight forward yearning for life as it was. We would not be human if we did not long for all those freedoms that we innocently took for granted. There’s desperate denial from conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxers and other extremists. Then there’s the stuff that informed and inspired my latest project: MANIFESTO FOR A NEW NORMAL; the voices raised to protest ‘norms and injustices once accepted as ‘just how things are.’ From Black Lives Matter, #Metoo, Extinction Rebellion, Times Up and others, we are examining the pieces of who we used to be and deciding that we can do better.
MANIFESTO FOR A NEW NORMAL is a 10-piece embroidered series made during 2021. It echoes traditional practices of stitching for New Life, such as the Layette, sewed by expectant mothers for their babies and the carefully initialled household linens and bridal finery layed in ‘bottom drawers’ and trousseaux. The working title was, at one point, A REBEL TROUSSEAU. The language of this project explores social demands I no-longer wish to conform with and the precious hopefulness that thoughts of shedding them inspires.
HAD ENOUGH? UNLEARN IT. Is one of three embroidered mazes representing the mires of convention that I am interested in challenging. Are you, it asks, good enough? Kind enough? Masked enough? Hollowed enough? Filled enough? Fearless enough? Skilled enough? Wise enough? Wise enough? Seen enough? Hidden enough? Tame enough? Quick enough? Sorry enough? Strong enough? Measured enough? Thin enough? Empathic enough? Shown enough? Obedient enough? Wary enough? Non-Threatening enough? True enough? Feminine enough? Hard enough? Perfect enough? And concludes HAD ENOUGH? UNLEARN IT. This call to unlearn old rules first appeared in the concluding work of my 54-piece series KisforKevin. It seems to be my go-to clarion call for breaking the rules and making real, positive change! I love the joy of the christening gowns and bonnets: BEGINNING AGAIN? BE TRUE THIS TIME, THE WORLD IS IN NEWNESS. THIS IS A TIPPING POINT, JUST BE TRUE.
This is my manifesto. Let's explore what needs to change!
I'm so proud to have illustrated When Shadows Fall, latest book by the force of nature that is Sita Brahmachari! We have been talking about this project for many years. It's Book of the Month at Hive Books who are giving a 25% discount on the £12.99 retail price. It's also book of the month at LoveReading4Kids.
Sita in Conversation with Michael Rosen, celebrating When Shadows Fall
I'm not too used to illustration but working with Art Editor Charlie Moyler, I was allowed to be playful, taking textures from existing etchings, ink blots, scorch marks and good old bubble printing to make imagery that does justice to the drama and emotion of the tale. I even got to feature some classic North London Brutalist Flats. Here are some images from the development process, some of the final illustrations and some of examples of the marriage of text and image on the page.
You are invited to my talk and Q&A for Ro2ART
Host: Jordan Roth.
Time: 8pm GMT on Sunday May 16th.
YES! THAT’S TOMORROW!
Just click here: http://ro2.us/nataliesirettarttalk to join the Zoom meeting.
I'm having an actual (NOT virtual) exhibition, opening this month in Dallas, Texas. With everything in Europe so thoroughly locked down, I am feeling very, very lucky. This slideshow shows some of the works on show. Details of the exhibition and opening event are below.
Kevin, Wishes & Charms
WHERE: Ro2 Art in The Cedars 1501 S. Ervay St. Dallas TX, 75215
WHEN: April 17 - May 15, 2021
OPENING RECEPTION: Saturday, April 17, 2021, 12-8pm
Ro2 will be hosting limited entry opening reception, reserve your FREE ticket via Eventbrite: RSVP
Natalie Sirett is a British artist trained in academic painting and printmaking. Her newest body of work is informed by the survival of her own body, now in remission after undergoing ten months of treatment for cancer. Sirett hand embroidered over fifty antique handkerchiefs as she processed coming to terms with her own mortality.
The intimacy of these textiles; square patches of fabric that hold joy, uncertainty, sadness, loss, happiness and hope, are a compelling choice of substrate for the artist’s words to exist on. The images take shape on a background of memory, pierced, looped, and needle-worked into Sirett’s compositions. These fiber art pieces, as well as several assemblage sculptures have never before been exhibited.
Sharing Rebecca Elson's Antidotes to Fear of Death because a vision of the vastness of time and space knocks me out of myself and into an appreciation of LIFE; a much-needed tonic on days like these. Happy New Year!
Antidotes to Fear of Death
Sometimes as an antidote
To fear of death,
I eat the stars.
Those nights, lying on my back,
I suck them from the quenching dark
Til they are all, all inside me,
Pepper hot and sharp.
Sometimes, instead, I stir myself
Into a universe still young,
Still warm as blood:
No outer space, just space,
The light of all the not yet stars
Drifting like a bright mist,
And all of us, and everything
But unconstrained by form.
And sometime it’s enough
To lie down here on earth
Beside our long ancestral bones:
To walk across the cobble fields
Of our discarded skulls,
Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis,
Thinking: whatever left these husks
Flew off on bright wings.
'Entering into Natalie Sirett's world is like meeting oneself in a universe subject to completely different rules of recollection. The work is delicate and brutal, sensitive with a bite. Subsequently, one's memory of her storytelling is always full of colour.'
Libby Anson Editor, Arts Writer, Author The A to Z of Art
MEDUSA & her SISTERS
Limited edition art book & poetry anthology