I have recently won a bursary from Jameson Works, who give funding to creative projects, to produce some new weavings. The Jameson brief was storytelling and I have proposed telling the story of my great great grandfather Frederick Desnaux who in the 1860’s traded commodities between England and West Africa. His last journey proved to be fatal as he caught dysentery and died in Freetown, Sierra Leone in 1868. A record is left of this journey in the form of seven letters, six he wrote to his beloved wife, the seventh written by a colleague informing his family of his death. As a weaver this story holds particular interest for me as the family inherited an ornamental kente cloth given to him by the King of Dahomey which was then given by his daughter to The British Museum in the 1950’s where it still lives today.
Kente cloth is highly valued and imbued with cultural and religious significance and is my way into this story, it is made of narrow woven strips of fabric which are sewn together to make a larger piece, it is literally a story made of cloth. I plan to weave the story of Freddies last voyage by using this method which will allow me to collage together different textures, patterns and colours juxtaposing European and African traditions of woven cloth to tell the story.
With the content of each of the letters as my starting point I intend to make seven woven panels to represent the themes in each of his letters. There are many areas to explore, as well as the human story of a family losing its husband and father, there is also the story of European imperialism and the moral questions raised by trading in ivory and palm oil.
I have just started researching some ideas and thought that going to see Freddies piece of kente cloth was a good starting point, so I have an appointment with a textiles curator at the British Museum to go and see it. As I progress with the project I will be posting on this blog and also will be sending pictures and writing to Jameson’s so they can follow the project on their Tumblr. I’m hoping that I might find somewhere to exhibit the pieces when they are finished.