I recall the past, I talk about the present & I outlook the future through narrating. Is it possible for me to do all that through sewing?
Would I be able to weave my stories the way I tell them? Is it possible for the ordinary (needle & thread) to shape acts of free-will towards psychological, political & social liberty the way a word does?
And if an ordinary woman is able to narrate her story, without necessarily being a professional narrator; would she be able to weave her story without necessarily being an artist?
What links storytelling to sewing in comparison with the similarity of letters and story? Many questions were roaming in my head on my way to participate in the first international conference that had this slogan (Sew to Speak!)
The first International Arpillera and Story Cloth Conference, in Geneva.
When I accepted the invitation to participate in the conference in Geneva (Webster University, September 12th -14th 2014) accompanied by a distinguished Palestinian expert, specialized in the art of Palestinian Tapestry; Ms. Siham Abu Ghazaleh, I felt so eager to discover new innovative & diverse ways to narrate our Palestinian stories by learning new rich and different experiences from women from all over the globe. And on the other hand I was eager to let them know about our prolific heritage in the art of sewing and story-gathering!
It was a great opportunity to meet female academics, artists, psychotherapists, film-makers, social activists from all over the world to exchange experiences about employing “sewing” in breaking the silence, in resistance, in defending human rights, in political struggle and in psychotherapy.
The short intense meeting was a challenge for the participating women, who came from 21 countries to gain new information and experiences, to develop some skills and to disseminate learned lessons, so that women could go back to their societies armed with tools that support their expertise and enable them to create innovative ways to work with abused women, and with refugee women that were separated from their homelands.
The meeting of all those women in Geneva was a promising omen for the birth of a women’s worldwide web that is concerned with employing “story cloth” as a mean of expression for the free-will, a web that catches common interests between women worldwide, and that takes the path of dialogue to resolve conflicts, aiming at at developing the humanitarian work to reach out to a pluralistic world, free from violence, subjugation, occupation & absolutism, and contributing in creating world peace and justice for all people around the globe.
I was fascinated by the experiences of the peoples of the world! The diversity of storytelling techniques … making their narratives lively and vibrant by various creative ways to deliver stories that words could not express. Women wove & sewed their personal tribulations, their peoples’ suffering & most interestingly, they sewed resistance against subjugation!
Tribulations of women from Africa to Asia, Europe, North America & Latin America formed threads that intersected and tangled across continents to weave an enchanting feminine connection.
The sessions of the conference combined theory with practice, it was an open space to listen to rich experiences and to learn from them. It also enabled us to learn new skills … and that atmosphere allowed every participant to be learning and sharing knowledge simultaneously.
The stories of women creatively mixed the “unspeakable” on the personal levels and the collective experiences of resistance against oppression, dictatorship & colonialism.
There were some examples of the relationship between sewing, Human Rights & political struggle towards liberty (such as the experiences of San Roque Badalona – Spain, Durban – South Africa & Palestine). And examples of the link between sewing and psychotherapy (Such as the experiences of Chile, Ireland & America), up to the documentary that featured stories about women and sewing in Chile.
The stories of women, their tribulations, tears, hopes & dreams escorted us throughout the conference days. Not only through the participants, but also through the art gallery that has been neatly & professionally organized in accordance with the theme of the conference and its goals.
It was interesting and yet astonishing to see all that ugliness, oppression & destruction stories turning into artistic beauty through the well-woven threads and through the presentation of the art works.
We heard the experiences of women who lived the Military Dictatorship of Chile in the time of Dictator Augusto Pinochet. They told stories about men and women who disappeared in that dark era of their country’s history, and they told us about the various ways of resistance and struggle to find those missing persons … they struggled politically and artistically … Images of my beloved Palestinian people flashed across my mind when I was hearing those stories … We couldn’t even pull their bodies from the ruins of the bombed-out homes in Gaza due to the barbaric Israeli aggression on the strip 2 months ago … Images of the missing children, women and men that have been forced into deadly migration journeys through the sea crossed my mind too … They didn’t have much choice beside the inhuman aggression and siege of the sublime strip.
Images of the Palestinian detainees’ families, especially mothers & wives, were roaming around me … those women who tirelessly held photos of their beloved, sons and spouse documenting names, dates of detention and health status to show them during the weekly demonstrations in front of the Red Cross. Who would taste the bitterness of your agony else than someone who experienced something similar to it?
I have always turned away from the traditional role of women in our Arab Societies, and above all was sewing! There is a common understanding that a women – no matter how educated she might be- must learn how to sew, and she must be a good housekeeper, so that her partner will be pleased with her regarding her major responsibility of the monotonous housekeeping tasks!
As a kid I wondered: “What if I didn’t want to learn sewing with a needle and a thread?! What if I replaced them with weaving words?! Why do women have to learn things that they do not like just to make everyone else happy?
Through this conference, the “needle” wore a different dress when it became associated with storytelling! (The Fabric told me that!)
And the “words” have elegantly dressed up with lots of colors and they transformed into enchanting and still painful artworks.
And when the thread entered the eye of the needle and blended with the women’s weavings to narrate stories about the unforgettable past (That is the moment that I would never forget), and about the “unspeakable” (and this is what I can’t talk about) … the thread extended to help in the revolutionary change process & to support Women Empowerment in every aspect; politically, economically, socially & psychologically … The thread also connected their tribulations on the individual level & their political and social struggle on their way to freedom.