It is our first time working with the BAME group, Michelle and I have been with the lovely ladies for the past 5 weeks exploring the Himalayan Textile collection currently exhibited at Lotherton Hall. We have been studying the colours, patterns and shape composition along with spoken words/poetry by the wonderful Maya Angelou.
Week 1: Getting to Know…
Michelle & I both walked into the room with a smile and greeted everyone with a ‘Hello’ but there was no response instead we had some stern looks but that was probably because we were new to the centre ,we just needed to allow some time for people to warm to us.
We started the session with introducing ourselves, I told everyone my name but also said those who find it difficult can call me ‘M’, Instantly MT responded ‘M&M’ and laughed then someone shouted out ‘M&M&M’ we soon realised there were a lot of M’s in the room as we had two M’s already MT & MC . One by one everyone introduced themselves, the mood was getting better. I noticed people started to feel more relaxed; those sitting up straight in their seats with backs straight were a bit more comfortable in their seats. As we went around it was MT’s turn she quickly pointed out that she is actually M number 2 & MC is M number 1 because MC has been at the centre longer which makes her M1, and she is happy to take the title of M2 herself – we all had a little laugh about this.
After the initial introductions we soon realised it would be good to go around and learn a little more about one another in terms of likes/dislikes, hobbies/interests and if anyone wanted to share any stories/memories.
L began by telling us, she liked Classical dancing, something she really enjoyed when she was younger. M2 followed with “I like to mix with different communities”. M 1 mentioned she enjoys dancing but just goes with whatever the music is & E said she liked knitting.
By now everyone seemed quite comfortable through their body language; being open and sharing their stories and confidently taking part in the group discussions. Michelle shared her story, everyone listened and asked questions. M 1 shared her story of Montserrat, she spoke so passionately about it, the food the culture and how she loved gardening.
After sharing of stories Michelle read one of her poems whilst everyone listened with great interest. We had a few ‘Amen’s’. We then decided we would write a group poem with everyone contributing to this by saying a little about themselves.
I can’t hate anybody
I draw a line
I’m a person that loves people
Maybe because of my mixed race
I love everybody
Blue because the heavens were blue
When I was a young child, everything had to be blue,
My bedroom was blue
If my mother asked what i wanted
It had to be blue (M2)
I am the only one here from Montserrat
I dream paradise
Because the island of Montserrat was paradise
I miss my Montserrat
Fresh food, vegetables
Go out in my garden and do my gardening (M1)
Purple because – in my days as a young child
My mother could sew – she sewed me some pants
The pants were like bloomers and had a frill
Purple reminds me of the colours of my bloomers. (L)
V, she is very strong
Strong black woman
A little wise aswell
Kind and gentle
Would give you the last thing on her plate. (V)
I love two colours purple and green
I just love the colours
These two colours
I just love
I love wearing the colours
I just love it. (E)
I dream of coming here every day and drawing
I like drawings flowers
Peela – Yellow. (S)
Week 2: Mono Printing
We spoke to the group about Lotherton hall and talked about the beautiful Himalayan textiles exhibited, the group listened politely. I had done a pre visit to Lotherton Hall where I had taken lots of photos, this really helped as group members were able to see the visuals – It was like bringing the exhibition to them.
I presented the photos of the exhibition, participants were drawn to the patterns colours and shapes, they were then encouraged to make their own designs taking inspiration from these photos. There was a mixed response amongst the group, M2, said, “I can’t draw” whilst Aunty D felt a little overwhelmed by the whole concept of drawing. V on the other hand paints her own nails, using a whole bottle of nail vanish -at the moment they are electric blue! V really concentrated on the pattern and took care with her drawing.
S spoke in the previous week about how she loves to draw and was completely engaged in her drawing and really grasped the concept.
We then moved on to printing the images using a technique called Mono Printing, this is when the paint and the brown paper where introduced.
“I felt a little hesitant at first, it’s a bit messy said Aunty D” but she didn’t let that put her off as she drew carefully over the print plate. It felt a little crammed round the table and the group dynamic of painting and creating something collaborative felt a bit alien to some of them.
S (staff member) suggested that we have two sheets of brown paper as the participants felt a bit cramped and so we set out another sheet.
Week 3: May Angelou & Textile Activity
The session started with a quick into, Michelle explained we would be looking at poetry by Maya Angelou followed by a textile activity – painting on cotton fabric. She also explained the painted fabrics will be made into cushions with pockets. The pockets would have all the precious memories and stories collated over the weeks. L at this point said “So you’re going to expose our secrets” to which Michelle responded “No, we want to pass on your wisdom”.
Over the weeks we have encouraged customers in sharing their wisdom, knowledge and stories, we have also looked at why we think this is important especially for the younger generations so the stories get passed on and not lost half way. Whilst there were some participants like M 2 who were more open in sharing their stories and wisdom there were still some who held back or preferred to discuss things on a one to one as oppose to a open group setting.
We started with the two poems by Maya Angelou “Still I rise” & “When I am old”. Participants listened very carefully with some nodding in agreement to the words they heard. M2 said “She has spirit” A short while later we realised one of the ladies L got upset, it was quite an emotional moment and the words of this poet touched many people. The mood changed, there was sadness, I felt a little uncomfortable, I was pleased when Michelle said, “Shall we do the art activity now”.
I introduced the activity and set out the dyes, it was amazing how the group took to the activity with an exception of a couple of people. Slowly the atmosphere was back to how it had been. Aunty D was very much absorbed in what she was doing and so was E, she carefully selected her colours and applied them on the fabric watching them blend into one another.
WEEK 4: What Makes Us Happy & Textile Printing.
We started with the textile activity and introduced the stenciling process M1 was delighted by how her painted fabric turned out from the previous week and was immediately engaged in the stenciling, smiling at the results, she was fully engaged the whole session and only nodded off once!, which was excellent.
M2 was on top form she is such a fun character and was really happy she got stuck into her stencilling “ Look at me, I look like I’ve been in the coal bucket” she had splotches of black paint on her wrists, arms, hands and table. “My mother wouldn’t let me paint; I guess I was too messy” she said pointing and laughing at the table. “I would have to be a nude artist, cos I’m such a messy person, and I’m not hurting anybody, I like coming here cos I can be who I want to be”. She went onto say, ‘’When I was little I was very shy, so now I’m making up for it, my mummy was very strict”.
Whilst the group worked away, Michelle asked them what their happiest point was.
“When I start school “said M1 – “Going to school were my happy days, I liked school, St. Mary’s school in Montserrat, and I liked spellings!”.
Week 5: Spoken Word & Poetry
The focus of session 5 was spoken word/poetry and Michelle explained that we would be collating words/stories/feelings to put into a piece of poetry for our cushions – she started by asking everyone what colour they were feeling. She had bought some M&M’s to help people choose colours.
Mrs L started “Anything will do for me, I’m not fussy and I like all of them”. Participants were encouraged to say the colour they were feeling. S said she was feeling grey as she felt tired, L said she was feeling red as red made her happy.
Michelle then introduced Mawlan Rumi 13th century Persian Muslim poet. She read his famous quote “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoings and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there”
She then went onto ask participants – In your perfect field what would you have. M1 said she would have her coconut tree and avocado tree.
We finished the session by asking everyone do you think it was worth leaving your countries to come to live in the UK. Whilst some of them said “There is no place like home”, “I Miss my country”, E said “I was 24 when I came to England, so I spent most of my life here, i lived in a village in St Kitts. If I was home i wouldn’t be alive, with all the illnesses i have i wouldn’t have got the same treatment there”.
It was interested although E said she spent most of her life here, she still referred to St Kitz as her home.
Some lovely stories emerged through our conversations, Michelle will be using the words/feelings from these conversations and will be putting them into a poem.
By Musarat Raza