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Tuesday 7 September 2021

Reflective Writing about Artist/Activist, a new contemporary pictorial tapestry

Title: Artist/ Activist Dimensions: 
100cm x 90cm

This piece is called Artist/Activist in the centre is the model Yves Mathieu East. In the tapestry he is looking into the future a golden light is shining upon him as he manifests his future. For me Yves Mathieu East is a visionary and an artist as well as an activist. The images surrounding him are all based on tattoos across his body. You can find him on Instagram @the_yvesdropper He has said- 
‘There are people who have scrapbooks, people have yearbooks and I have my tattoos. You know if my house was ever on fire, I would be able to run like out hands free. Because everything single thing that means something to me like the most, is tattooed on my body.’ 
I really loved the idea that he carries his memories upon him, with him everywhere. They are visual clues and symbols rich with deep and personal meaning to him and anyone who has shared those moments with him. I love that about tattoos in general.
 I believe that tattoos are usually attached to some significance. Even those tattoos that are done through a drunken night out, hold a memory and an experience. I wanted part of this piece to honor Yves memories and act as a celebration of his life. Through the process of looking at his tattoos are all from his Instagram I noticed repeating themes. 
Flowers, skulls and scissor’s feature repeatedly as well. I also noted that he has one tattoo with the statement ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’. His body is a beautiful canvas full of flowers in full bloom and different animal skulls. These tattoos remind me that life is beautiful and temporary. The combination of how temporary beauty can be and how death is always present and inevitable- ‘Motmento Mori’.
  I admire Yves as a person and believe he is someone who deserves to be acknowledged and remembered. I would be interested to know more about his scissor’s tattoos. 
He has a couple of pairs of scissors on different parts of his body. Sometimes we must cut things out of our lives to protect your ourselves. Scissors can help you maintain your personal appearance and be used to support creative ideas. I used to love cutting up junk, cardboard boxes and toilet rolls and glue them together and turn them into junk monsters and models. 
For the piece I traced around my own pair of scissors to incorporate some of own story into this piece as a maker and someone with creative ambition. There is also something in the physical act of cutting which is both cathartic and in some ways an act of violence. I have people close to me who have a history of self-harm and I can see how people could make negative associations when seeing scissors tattooed on a person.
 The Triumph of Death or The Three Fates - Artist unknown 16th Century
It is interesting to me how symbols can mean different things to different people. In relation to the themes of life and death; you never know when life could be cut short. 
When I think of scissors I also think of the Greek legend of the Three Fates. Atropis was the oldest of the Three Fates and was known as "the Inflexible One."
Paul Thumann (1834–1908), The Three Fates (c 1880), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, location not known. 
Here is a close up interpretation of Atropis. She is kneeling with her sheers in hand ready to chop off the life of a living soul. The three fates were a popular representation between life and death you can learn more about various representations of their legend here.
John Melhuish Strudwick (1849–1935), A Golden Thread (detail) (1885), oil on canvas, 72.4 x 42.5 cm, The Tate Gallery, London.
 It was Atropos who chose the manner of death and ended the life of mortals by cutting their threads. She worked along with her two sisters, Clotho, who spun the thread, and Lachesis, who measured the length.
Henry Siddons Mowbray (1858–1928), Destiny (1896), oil on canvas, 76 x 103 cm, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA. Wikimedia Commons.
This Greek example i've used to associate scissors with death might appear a slightly tenuous link. I'm not suggesting this is the reason for Yves' tattoos, but it is something that I thought of when I looked at the tattoos alongside the skulls and flower. I thought how temporary life is. 
The symbolism of the Three Fates may have lost some of its relevance over time and become more obscure and less known. 
I find this idea interesting as it indicates that time can be something that erodes at collective memory. Symbols that were once prominent become abstract or change over time.
Will tattoos of scissors hold the same meaning in years to come? Had Yves' tattoos been displayed in a different era; the symbolism may well be interpreted in a completely different way.
 I like that tattoos are temporary to the period they serve, some symbols last longer than others. For example, the swastika symbol, 卐 (right-facing or clockwise) or 卍 (left-facing, counterclockwise, or sauwastika), is an ancient religious icon in the cultures of Eurasia. For more information about this symbol’s history follow this link.

I like that a tattoo can offer multiple interpretations depending on the designer and viewer which is also at odds with the cultural, social context of the time. Something that can initially seem as mundane as a pair of scissors can hold a range of narratives depending on how they are understood and how they are presented and the context and time they appear. 
One of the great things about social media is that everyone who has a camera phone and access to the internet can get involved and build an audience and a voice for themselves. 
Instagram is a democratic means of building a following whereby people can access people they admire and respect and connect with. With access to a global potential audience, it is interesting to see who is celebrated as someone of significance. 
It interests me that people can gain a global currency and become iconic celebrity of hero because of the images they present of themselves. What I find interesting is how and why these pictures and the images that are created have gained value. It feels like there is a blurring between being prominent and distinguished which can be combined with being known for celebrity, notoriety, popularity and other qualities. 
What I like about Yves is that he has built a popular profile whilst advocating for multiple issues which he has a passion for. He has a very altruistic approach whilst building a thriving brand for himself. I admire that he has multiple passions and explores a range of subjects in his life and makes space for them all. 
Peter The Great at the Battle of Poltawa, Saint Petersburg Manufactory, after a design by Louis Caravaque, 1764
Here of some portraits of different heroes from fifteenth century tapestries. These noble figures were celebrated for their wealth prestige winners of battles and wars. 
Charlemagne a Flemish tapestry c16th 
I wanted to create a different representative figure of someone who I think is worth admiration and celebration. Yves’ activism is incredible, and he utilises tools like Instagram and other social media to further his activism. 
In the picture above Yves is wearing a crop top that says
For me personally, I wish there were more male figures who were celebrated in this way. Men who represent masculinity with a compassionate and altruistic lens. 
In the picture Yves has managed to bring together a combination of using a feminine style crop top with pink lettering against his masculine angular, muscle toned and tattooed body.
It made me think about the cyclical nature of fashion and gender expression. 
Above is an image of James I back in 1672. When you compare that tapestry with Harry Styles' outfit in 2019 at MET gala you can see subtle similarities. 
The dark dark suits both have lace details and the style of the trousers is a high waist to lengthen the leg.  This is not your average attire style. One is for a Royal and the other is a singer/ celebrity. Both outfits assert a level of power, prowess and glamour like a male peacock. 
Harry Styles at the MET Gala Black Gucci Jumpsuit 2019
I love that Yves' gender expression is prepared to blur and play with notions of what male identity is. To me as a figure, Yves holds more beauty and value than traditional archaic depictions of 'maleness'.  I prefer his outlook on what masculinity can be. I like how he has built a brand of himself which is not built on acts of violence and dominance. 
He has gained popularity through his modelling career, but he is also gained popularity from other areas of his life. On Instagram he is often sharing pictures of various campaigns that promote equality and education on several interlocking issues. 
He uses his platform to share and learn from his personal experiences and promoting other campaigns which have an international reach. He is New York based and woks as a model. He’s a musician, an activist, and his spare volunteers at homeless shelters, LGBTQ runaway centres, and senior citizen homes.
 Additionally, he has rescued pit bulls from fights or from the streets and fosters them until they’re ready to find a loving home. He is using his gifts proactively in the world and leading it towards change. 

You can find him on Instagram @the_yvesdropper he will be advocating different issues, from suicides to justice against hate crimes. 
He speaks out about racism and regularly uploads posts discussing Black Lives Matters and protests he has attended, after quarantine ended he spent the summer going to protest across roughly 26 states to help protest and support the Black Lives Matter movement . 

 He regularly uploads posts about people who have been killed and acknowledges how they died whilst finding ways to raise visibility about who they were and make sure more people are aware of their life and death. He posts these images far too frequently.
  I did start writing a list of the names of people who had died. I started from January and continued to write the names in order as they appeared in his timeline. By the time I had written a list of names that took up the length my material I had only reached April. 
I had written 38 names. Yves had uploaded 38 stories of people who had been killed through hate crimes over four months.
Unfortunately, there were so many more than I expected. I felt like I wasn’t doing the names of the people who had died justice by simplifying their memory to a list of names and the age that they died. What I apricated with Yves’ posts on his Instagram is that he really celebrated aspects of their lives and made their memory more visible. He has spoken about why he started doing this:

“I got introduced to Social media and a friend of mine, she was murdered, she's Trans. I posted about her as a woman crush Wednesday, like a Memorial post. And then I got people messaging me like you know, "Thank you for doing this. A friend of mine who was Trans was killed last year." And it was borderline impossible to find any information where she wasn't misgendered. If I was disrespected and mistreated and not acknowledge in life, my spirit would be at such unrest if I was treat the same way in death. I started to make these posts remembering these lives that are being taken the way that they wanted to be remembered while they were here.”

This tapestry wasn’t enough to give them the individual recognition that they deserve. I felt like I have abandoned them by not amplifying Yves’ voice in raising awareness of all their stories. Potentially this might be a future project to for me to consider. It is unfortunate that I couldn’t articulate all their stories within the tapestry. I hope however raising awareness here in this article, helps contribute towards reminding people of their lives that were cut short.
 I knew I wanted to look at celebrity within this series #Softlads. Instagram generates different types of democratic celebrity. The public collective support and promote people who they like and admire or find attractive. What I wanted to highlight within this piece is how Yves Mathieu East is more that just a beautiful face and a human being worth being remembered for a long time. He campaigns about subjects which affect people locally and internationally. When I was creating this series of work I did want be mindful about who I convert into a tapestry as I hope these pieces will last longer than my life time. This did prompt me to look and see if I could find any other historic example of People of colour in tapestries as well.
I did find this website about Harriet Powers from 1886. Born a slave in Georgia in 1837, Harriet Powers created two quilts which are the best known and well preserved examples of Southern American quilting tradition still in existence. I also found this other article looking at the history of Black history in quilting which can be accessed here.
I did try to find some historic examples of black men in tapestries and I was able to find two! I was worried I wouldn't find any. Two is still woefully abysmal in terms of representation. Both were found from digitized public collections. It is problematic that their are so few examples available and persevered in history. It is encouraging that both were sourced from projects that aim to improve hidden representations and stories from existing collections. 
Canvas-work embroidered picture, mid- to late 18th century © National Trust for Scotland, Culloden
In the image above out of this sea of white men and horses there is one hidden figure which can easily be missed. The array of horseman are of different scale in size with the prominent leaders and cavalrymen appearing much larger than the soldiers in the foreground. The uniforms are believed to be accurate to the period. It is possible miss the one black male figure in this tapestry as he is hidden by a horse's head.
There is a black soldier or footman, on the Jacobite side, at the Battle of Culloden, (which took place on 16 April 1746). The black man is smartly dressed, with a powdered wig and sporting a blue coat, with gold or brass buttons. The full article from the article can be found here. The article was a part of a project 'Facing our Past' a two year research project.

“Facing our Past is a key initiative in acknowledging the lost and excluded voices of our history, and in enabling our visitors to see the role of individual people and places in opposing, supporting or simply benefiting from the outrage of chattel slavery.”
The second tapestry I was able to find, came from a online publication 'Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe'. You can view the full publication here.
German Rochelitz Wedding Tapestry 1548 

Unfortunately the image is really grainy but I've emailed the Antonio Ratti Textile Center to see if I can get a better image. 

"Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe invites visitors to explore the roles of Africans and their descendants in Renaissance Europe as revealed in compelling paintings, drawings, sculpture and printed books of the period." 

With so few images found online I hope there are plenty more images and artifacts to find in physical collections. If you are reading this and know of more example please share them with me in the comments below!

I did find an artist who is doing some cool stuff right now though. Her work is really exciting Bisa Butler is a quilter in America and her work is phenomenal!
I love the composition of this piece all the of the different elements in each of the portraits are so cleverly put together. There is no paint in these images just flakes of material built up into these stunning pieces.
I love the use of colour in these pieces how they clash and sing together. There is real energy in the pieces and the expressions are striking. Thanks to the joy of Instagram I can look at all the pieces she has shared and even comment on her pictures! Even if she is on the other side of the world.
The piece above is a close up of a portrait of Harriet Tubman (1822-1913).
Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross, c. March 1822– March 10, 1913) was an American abolitionist and political activist. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made some 13 missions to rescue approximately 70 enslaved people, including family and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. During the American Civil War, she served as an armed scout and spy for the Union Army. In her later years, Tubman was an activist in the movement for women's suffrage. 

When I saw this piece on Bisa Bulter's work on Instagram I was thrilled to see that her work had been selected for a public museum! I love a political topic in a textiles piece and its really encouraging to know that this type of work is being collected in public collections. I hope that at least one of my pieces will one day be added to a public collection myself. I hope that my work helps future generations become inspired. I hope it helps them live authentically and helps them consider how they can act as a positive influence towards others and advocate for positive change too.

Learning from construction of the tapestry 

The piece took 125 hours to complete roughly 25 days to complete averaging 5 hours per day. If I was paying myself for my time (which I am not) and I charged £50 per day (£10 per hour rate) this piece would cost £1,250 to produce. 

This is great as my previous piece Xochipilli took 22 days £1,100, Pilgrim took the same time as well £1,250, 25 days and Hardcore Vibes took £3,450 69 days.

 These are the costs I’ve been calculating since I started recording this project. I have however recently learnt that it is recommended that an artist pays themselves £180 per day (as the lower end of the artist’s pay scale provide by calculated with a-n AIR-paying artists of pay £180 per day (Jan 2021).) 

On this basis this radically changes the fees for the pieces: Artist/Activist- 25 days @ £180 per day =£4,500 Xochipilli- 22 days @ £180 per day= £3,960 Pilgrim- 25 days @ £180 per day=£4,500 Hardcore Vibes- 69 days @ £180 per day= £12,420 

I have to calculate if this is a realistic and feasible fee to charge. I have to question if I were able to sell these as products in the private arts market above these prices if I was to connect with a private gallery. For now, what I am attempting to do is applying for public funding through the Arts Council to tour the work. Whilst I have been developing this piece, I also spent over two weeks in writing the proposal itself (there was quite a bit of planning before writing it as well!). 

This is a risk as there is between 30-50% chance of being award a grant. So, I must factor the likelihood of gaining funding against the amount of time it takes to write a proposal. 
Before I began this piece, I used the learning from my previous pieces and drew out the image first to test if it was how I wanted the final image to appear. I then used that as a starting point to what I then used for the projection screen to trace out the main areas of the face. 
In the original reference he is holding a snake and I didn’t want to include that within the image, so I had used my drawing as a basis to the picture. Once the full image was drawn out in pen, I then went back into the image using a tool on my mobile to layer images and used the combination of looking at what I had drawn against his photograph to work out where I had made minor error which would have affected the likeness of Yves’ face if I had not made the amendments.
 When you are drawing at an increased scale it can be difficult to keep the portions in place. But using layering images between a photographic reference and the drawn image can make it possible to see where the corrections are. I recorded these corrections in shorthand as a drawing. I needed to be able to note down areas which were incorrect. 
I had to keep going back between the drawing and the notes to make sure all the areas I wanted to amend were resolved. From my previous experience of constructing Hard Core Lives, I knew that I wanted to make better foundation for the surface of the face. I was highly conscious of the warping that occurs with the material the more levels of thread it gains as the surface has more sewn onto it. I had sewn grid formation across the surface of the cotton first to help ensure every area has some structure in place. I made sure that instead on concentrating on a singular area of the piece I instead built-up lower layers of thread across the surface of the face. 
This was important in ensuring that the tension remained even as the thread built up. It also allowed me to map out the surface of the face in terms of the overall shape and form of the face and where there were areas of light and shade. I had to sew in some of the tattoos between these layers to ensure that position of the tattoos was in the right place and still visible to me as I added new layers of thread. It felt laborious at the beginning, but it paid off and saved time in the long run as this piece was significantly quicker to construct that the first piece ‘hardcore vibes. 

Step by step to construct the head
1. I made a drawing of his face 
2. I then traced this on acetate and used a projector screen to increase the scale. 3.I then used #sharpie pens to sketch out his face 
4. I used #photoshopmix app on my phone to check and correct the image. The app allows you to take two pictures and layer them over each other. This helped me check the proportions of the face to make sure the likeness was correct. 
5. I sewn a grid of horizontal and vertical lines across the cotton. This is important to help reduce warping 
6. I added a layer of stitch in terms of light and dark values to get the form of the head and general shape and depth in place. 
7. I sew in the tattoos and build up the curvature of the flesh and repeat the process layer upon layer. You have to work across the whole face evenly otherwise the fabric will stretch and warp. Then details like face highlights of white come last. 
8. I cut out & iron the whole thing sandwich a layer of embroidery stabiliser tear away white 1.8oz 12” roll at the back and use a light cotton to attach to keep the thickness as thin as possible (by this point the material is pretty thick)
 9. This layer is now ready (like a giant patch!) I then sew other components and lay out a final design. I’ll do sketches to test a composition and take pictures of different layout until I’m happy 
10. Sew in the remaining elements around the central figure modifying where elements are placed depending on how it looks altogether 🤗 

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