Threading of Fabrics (Gungun Diroch) is Meron Hailu’s latest work currently exhibited at Guramayne Art Center. Experienced in multiple media and an experienced printmaker, Meron has focused her attention on colorful thread for these artworks. Gluing and threading yarn onto canvas, Meron has carefully contoured the landscape of her imagination, offering views into the microscopic inner workings of anatomy and hinting at a more tender world.
Threading of Fabrics is an interesting entry into contemplating the instituting cellular makeup of human anatomy at the molecular level and the relationship of the human body with nature from a macro perspective. The delicacy of the threads hints at tenderness and fragility but the tactile texture on canvas is surprisingly rough.
Meron has experimented with yarn and employed various techniques in her artistic practice. Readymade crochet pieces, layers of thread, tightly rolled coils of yarn, cut-up wads of thread all add texture and complexity.
Meron describes the initial experimentation with vibrant colored thread as jarring but eventually came to embrace the implications of the availability of these colors. Although she was attracted to more muted tones bright pinks, yellows and electric greens are the colors often available for purchase. These colors are desirable among craftspeople, often for crochet and knitting, or making mesob and sefed, especially in rural areas where bright colors are embraced more boldly. Crochet pieces are often used as sofa covers, table clothes, fabric to cover bread or injera.
Meron describes the process of working as meditative. “It’s like slowing down time. I sit and I’m free to think.” And thinking about women has been a big part of her process. One can imagine her sitting on the floor, threading the canvas or rolling yarn along her finger, delicately arranging the folds of a piece of crochet to glue onto the surface.
Purchasing readymade crochet from artisan markets, interacting with the women that make them and thinking about the social aspect of crocheting are also important elements to consider.
The association of certain colors with gender or the assignment of certain tasks based on gender is not necessarily consistent across cultures, says Meron. She asks if our stereotypes are affected by Western culture. “These ideas are subverted when you go outside the city,” she explains.
“This reminds me of the landscape of a dream. There is a lot we don’t see even from what’s visible in the landscape. Our perspective is shaped by our experiences. I’m a part of this society. I was altered by it. When I think about this, I think of my landscape. I think of my mother. I think about women. All these things are related.”
The mesmerisingly bright colors are a wonderful entry point into imagining natural terrain that is decidedly unmasculine. Although Meron employs craft techniques traditionally relegated to the role of women, the resulting artworks are not necessarily gendered.
“The recognition of women is nonexistent in our society. There’s a lot of talk about giving women a platform but what I want to say is that we are the platform. It all depends on us. I wanted to reiterate that to myself through this work, I guess.”
It takes a kind of blind determination to become an artist in Ethiopia and doubly so when one is female. The handful of women that forge ahead are often faced with family or societal pressure to enter more ‘realistic’ livelihoods or get married. In the art world, they experience more scrutiny than their male contemporaries. Meron has a front row seat to this. As a teacher at Ale School of Fine Art and Design, she’s learned to ignore the noise and focus on her work.
Reclaiming traditionally feminine craft is reminiscent of Konjit Seyoum’s work with cotton in ‘Treading the Line’. These two artists also share the meditative practice of sitting, alone or with others, engaging with the tactile nature of the material at hand and the complex socio-political connotations of the act.
The images in Threading of Fabrics remind one of the movement of cells or the intricate dance of subatomic particles. They have the weight of presence with a hint of flightiness – like we’re getting a small snapshot of a delicately intricate system designed by an intelligent higher being.
While they hint at human anatomy with strong womb imagery, the works boldly proclaim a space beyond binaries. They belong to a fantasy realm that allows more freedom. They also serve as entryways into Meron’s imagination of landscape and natural terrain.
To Meron, the immediate association of physical landscape to these works indicates a collective understanding of what landscape looks like.
There is also a futuristic element to Meron’s work. They’re asking us to reimagine what a more equitable landscape could look like. By reclaiming craft both from the societal limitations of femininity as well as the artistic blackhole of kitsch, Meron has blurred the lines between craftsmanship and art.
Threading of Fabrics, Meron’s first solo exhibition, will remain at Guramayne Art Center for one month.