Friday, January 27, 2012

Making Art out of Needles and Thread

The forecasts of snow on January 10 proved once again illusory, and so I made the hour's drive to the gallery at the Pennsylvania College of Technology to meet an artist and her work. Anila Quayyam Agha was billed as a mixed media artist, but I knew one of those media involved thread--and, I assumed but wrongly as it turns out, textiles. She does her stitching on paper and uses the traditional associations of making stitches with women and also with mending and nurturing to imbue her works with meaning.  One of her pieces took up a whole wall in the gallery:
Anila is originally from Pakistan and, while there recently, visited a necropolis, a huge cemetery where the grave markers for men indicated the careers they pursued while alive; those for women were beautifully decorated but identified them only as wives, mothers, or daughters, even though some may have been doctors or teachers. Anila created this wall of traditional designs in homage to these women, who even in death were viewed more as ornaments than as persons with identities of their own. To make each square she first drew a background design (you can see the faint flowers in the background), then stitched the intricate pattern into the paper, added black ink, and finally applied wax to seal the surface.
Another of her works is a series of nine larger black and white squares that deal with the devastating floods in Pakistan and the stitching symbolizes mending and rebuilding, the putting of things in order after the chaos.
Her most striking piece was difficult to photograph--it was about a ten-foot square created out of 870 pieces of thread hung on a grid from the ceiling, each threaded into a needle that hung just above the floor. About a foot from the ceiling a tiny silver piece was tied into the thread, giving the effect of drops of water--or tears. As you moved around it, your angle of vision caused the whole huge cube to shift impressively. Much symbolism here again with the needles suggesting the pain of injustice and oppression as well as the need for and hope of finding a way to mend the situation.

We talked about dyes--since she dyes the paper she uses--and about thread. She uses an undyed raw silk thread for her work and sometimes dyes it black, as she did for the stitching around the circle in the above piece. I am going to have to see if I can find that thread somewhere since it makes a very fine stitch with a bit of a sheen to it.

And if you are still with me on this journey to art nearby, thanks for the company.

1 comment:

IHaveANotion ~ Kelly Jackson said...

What a moving experience...thank you so much for taking me with you there. I would have loved to see the piece with the needles hanging from the sounds very moving.

With Gratitude,