Stitching and Unstitching

Cooperative Ushirika, Mathare Valley, Nairobi, Kenya

The project ‘Stitching and Unstitching’ was set up by me with Polish artist Joanna Rajkowska. The aim was to make something that is more than a well crafted object, with the African women from Ushirika as makers at the service of others, but rather wanted to presence them and collaborate with them in such a way that the would also be (co-)creators of the work, besides being makers.

We asked them to tell us some stories based on personal experience, but that would also be relevant for Kenyan women and their position in society more in general. Five of them – Philo, Maureen, Diana, Nancy and Mary – were willing to do so, and each provided one story in writing and drawing. Philo’s subject was about respect for the woman’s body; Maureen’s about a murder she saw, committed by a husband killing his wife with a knife; Diana’s was about rape at the university campus; Nancy’s about (domestic) violence towards women; and finally Mary’s story was about happiness connected with home at the countryside. We helped them to transfer enlarged version of the handmade drawings and writing to a textile canvas, on which we subsequently embroidered them, all of us working together. Later, these works were part of a public event in Warsaw, called ‘Gotong Royong, Things we do together’.