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Saturday 1 September 2018 Sunday 24 February 2019

Alice Kettle: Thread Bearing Witness

From the Barberini Tapestries to the Bayeux Tapestry, monumental textiles in the form of large-scale narrative embroideries, weaving and tapestries have been used to illustrate contemporary events to become enduring material chronicles. Thread Bearing Witness is a major new series of large textiles, and other works, to be shown at the Whitworth, that considers cultural heritage, refugee displacement and movement, while engaging with individual migrants and their creativity within the wider context of the global refugee crisis.

Core to Thread Bearing Witness are GROUND, SEA and SKY, three new monumental works which form an immersive installation in the gallery. Kettle’s textiles act as temporary walls and campsites, requiring the viewer to negotiate them, challenging simply ‘decorative’ readings. The works embrace both the personal testimonies of the refugees Kettle has met and textiles’ role, from the domestic to the spectacular, to encourage understanding in this chronicle of shared making. GROUND is patterned, informed by refugee’s contributions of imagery and textile cultural heritage for a collective common ground of making where Kettle has created sites for other voices to occupy. SEA reflects on the mediated experience through the media lens, symbolising the perilous and fatal sea journeys taken by the migrants. SKY is, like GROUND, made through image contribution as a shared one world view. Kettle has developed the project Thread Bearing Witness with her daughter Tamsin Koumis who has a background of working with migrants and refugees and set up the Dunkirk Legal Support Team, enabling access to rights. Public and refugee inclusion and engagement in the project is critical. Alice and her daughter recently went to help in the PIKPA camp in Greece with the organisation Lesvos Solidarity. Kettle has also worked closely and regularly with refugees through various organisations in the UK and abroad. Selected imagery from this work are translated into stitched images for GROUND and SKY while original artworks are also being shown in the exhibition. Kettle sees her role as a pattern maker, raising awareness of the issue of migration and raising money for refugee causes through ultimately selling the textile works. Kettle has worked directly with talented asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Uganda and Syria to make works for the exhibition including a tapestry and a large beaded artwork – these showcase the talents of asylum seekers and refugee communities.

Image Credit: GROUND (detail), Alice Kettle, with residents at Pipka/Lesvos Solidarity, Saamiullah Kahir, residents at Calais refugee camp working with Suzanne Partridge, Nahomie Bukasa, Sahira Khan and Ai Ling with Linda Leroy at the Helen Bamber Foundation, members of English Chat Winchester, Farhia Ahmed Ali, Nawad Hersi Duale, Amran Mohamud Ismail the participants from Refugee Action and artists Jenny Eden and Richard Harris, Susan Kamara and Shahireh Sharif. Cotton, rayon and metallic thread, life jacket material on printed canvas, 3m x 8m, 2018, courtesy the artist and Candida Stevens Gallery, photography Joe Low