Monday, 25 September 2017

Stitching the Wars exhibition and archive

Quilt Fresh Air and Poverty at National Trust's Lyme Park. 



A pair of quilts has been embroidered with the wartime history of Derbyshire by older people in the county. History arts project, Stitching the Wars opens at Derbyshire Records Office 4th October until the 5th January 2018. The two quilts then go into the National Collection held by The Quilters’ Guild. Poems, reminiscence, photos and the Stitching the Wars book will be archived at Derbyshire Records Office.

This award-winning project Stitching the Wars combines history, poetry and embroidery from older people living in rural Derbyshire, including many with dementia. Artist Lois Blackburn from the arts organisation arthur+martha made two collaborative community quilts embroidered with testimony from older people who survived two world wars.

Lois Blackburn commented: "This is art made by the public and we've been delighted to witness its growth and the richness of experience it contains. It is touchable history, quilts hand-stitched by over 400 older people with fragments of their stories. One of the great joys of the project has been to witness the pleasure of people with dementia who have taken part, turning memory from a thing to be feared to a thing to be relished. These quilts are a precious contribution to us all."

The poems that border the quilts and appear in the accompanying book and sound recordings were made in collaboration with poet Philip Davenport. "Sometimes the most extraordinary and powerful things are said in day-to-day conversation. We've painstakingly written down people's words and built them into poems together. Some of these are straightforward accounts of farming, cooking, schooldays, others are accounts of bombing raids and the fight to survive in wartime, and to survive poverty. It's a chorus of many voices, many experiences."

The exhibition in Matlock will share, archive photos, recorded readings of poems and reminiscence, and the accompanying book. They speak not only of violence, or sadness, but also of great affection for the past, for their fellow humans and for the beauty of the land around them. In love and in hate, in war and in peace, you’ll find their words here, set amongst stitched fields of greens and browns and blood red.

The project has been supported by Arts Council England, Foundation Derbyshire, Derbyshire County Council, Derbyshire Dales Council, Age UK, The Alzheimer's Society and The Farming Life Centre. We would like to thank the many, many people who have participated and whose work has made this a very special project.

Barbara and Mary, two of the participants at Buxton Art Gallery and Museum's exhibition of Stitching the Wars

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Kaos of life comes in all different types

Life in Order, by Stewart (detail)

Observe yourself when the mind is viciously dismantled
As the plummeting connections descend from fields above
Defences fail and life falls into a dark disarray 
Observe yourself when the mind is viciously dismantled
Wondering why others are reluctant to be impressed
Pain remembers when they land you with truth
Observe yourself when the mind is viciously dismantled
As the plummeting connections descend from fields above.


Writing poems is a gamble, like any art you've no guaranteed outcome. That is what gives it the possibility that it'll surprise you, and with surprise comes new understandings. 

The two poetry sessions I've run at Tom Harrison House felt like even more of gamble. THH is a centre for veterans who are trying to find a way out of addiction and are going toe to toe with some serious life issues, so personal stakes are high. But these people are in no mood to pussyfoot. The group have been facing their problems square on, and in doing so they've opened themselves to change. This was their second session with me and once again they plunged into writing with the zest of people who feel they've nothing to lose.

We started off by talking about personal armour, the layers of protective mechanisms we all build to keep the bumps of life at bay. It was a fascinating discussion about self-protection, because the people talking had such deep experience of physical armour and of psychological attack. One man is a firefighter and he described the danger of being over-armoured, that you becomes lulled into feeling invincible when your in the middle of something that might kill you. Another man described a similar over-protection, but this time identified psychological manipulation as armour keeping people at bay. As a contrast, for Stewart and Alan, armour is the strength offered by other people, community, the support they need to keep well. 

And so to the poems. This week we wrote about three words: chaos, order, safety. Crisis and resolution. And I offered three poem forms: tanka (an old Japanese form), triolet, or free verse. A wide range of people, a wide range of responses. We will post all the poems on the blog in the next while, but let's end today with this from Stewart: wry and heartfelt, it measures the precise weight of his armour.

3 nights awake, powder fuelled
3 nights watchful: looking seeing staring
3 what when why
3 days dead sleep, dreamless pitch darkness
3 times unlucky, wives' tears tell tales.


Life in Order, by Stewart

Sunday, 3 September 2017

I am one animal

Human, by Fatima. Berlin 2017
The arthur+martha international outreach project Heaven-Proof House is a collaboration with refugees in Berlin, devised by Phil. It is supported by the British Council/Arts Council England.

Phil writes:

I am getting ready to go back to Berlin, and my thoughts are turning to the many good people I met there and the friends I made over the last year, during HEAVEN-PROOF HOUSE. One of the last interviews I made in Berlin was on a scorchingly hot day, in a huge hostel at the edge of the city. In a subtle way, it broke my heart to hear this story. Nasir is angry and sad, and tries desperately to find something good in a bad situation. This isn't a war story, its about what comes after a war you've had to flee, the nuts and bolts of being completely dispossessed, of home, of self-worth, even of language. And starting again...


First I want to say there are many, many good things about Germany and we have been shown much kindness. But you ask me if this is home.

Home? Hier ist alle leuter. In one small room sleep six people. Plates dirty. We have 20% people sick, don't want to eat this... stuff. All is shit. Some people have been here more than two years. La Giz say we don't have da heim for you. All of us need psychologist, psychiatrist. No one here feels good.

People need work, here there is nothing. Essen, schlafen. Deutsch for two or three hours in the day. Open the book. Nothing else to do. But we don't speak good Deutsch because we don't meet German people so we can't learn. The important thing is to listen to the sound. We make friends, but we can't invite them here. No visitors, no besuchen. Here we speak Arabische, Farsi. 

I'm from Afghanistan and I have seen many things. But in my life, I've not seen this before. Hundreds of people in one place, six people sleeping in one room. The rooms are dirty, the toilets all dirty.

When I eat this food, I have a pain in my stomach. What am I to do?

I have been three years in Germany, nine months in this place. I know people who have been here over two years. It makes you crazy. My heart is sick with this. We go to which way? I think we will not find a nice way. This is not Europe, this is not democracy, this is a jail for me. For three years, four years, five years live here, inside this camp? At start all is ok. But I see my friends change, their voices get loud, talk not nice. All this pressure. 

We come to be strong in Germany. We don't want to be on La Giz. I want to go to a job, I want to pay my life. This is so hard until we learn German. 

When you come here at night time, after 11pm you will see something different. In sleep time is a bad smell. We have nowhere to put our shoes, our sandals, so they stink. After two or threee hours, boys come here in the big room and they play games on their phones. You see them lie on the benches out here. I ask them why and they say, "It smell so bad, I'm not sleeping."

I have a sickness. The important thing is doctor  is not one nice place to be a sick person. I have three doctor papers, they say I need to go somewhere different. But the social say no, if you want to go somewhere different go back to your own country. They say they don't have no other place. They tell me, "This is not my job. Go and speak with Merkel."

I see how they look in their eyes. I think I am one animal. We need a chance, a chance to do something good. Something strong here in Germany, to help them and show them. But we don't have one chance.

In Afghanistan we have people with no house, no money, begging. "Give me one Euro!" This is the same. What can I say? I sleep in da heim and the Giz pay for me? I go to a party and people ask me what I do. What can I tell them? I live off your taxes? 

I have been nine months in here...

Interviewed by Philip Davenport

Berlin, 2017