Suzanna James work considers the inherent link between women and the handmade. From a background in textile-led social development developed since her undergraduate studies at University of Westminster and Winchester School of Art, her distinction dissertation explores the concept of Caring Cloth praxis, a care-led, socially engaged, intercultural meeting place of research and practice, developed during her Masters at RCA, as a QEST Craft Scholar, Coats Foundation Scholar and Worshipful Company of Framework Knitters awardee.
To the women underneath the rubble*, this work is a gentle rage.
A rage against the silencing, erasure, disappearance and burial of women.
A response to my initial nine years of observing this in the context of studying and working in the fashion and textiles industry, which relies on 67 million women* in conditions of ‘terminal inequality’*, nameless, faceless, a commodity for production alone. This industry is a picture of the burial of women in endless social, cultural and political contexts.
My blood boils but it has no sound.
It can only be heard through a pile of cloth unraveled.
Perhaps the rage is not so gentle. It is unwound into making something of absences*, it dares expose the beauty and value in the gaps, the edges - a beauty in removal. It is a resistance to those who believe erasure leaves no trace -
when in fact the history of women ,makes itself felt, more than known,* through the presence of absence.
This is an absence which is seen and heard, which speaks even when it’s not spoken to.
Continually informed by devotion*, this work is a homage and a bow, in reverence to the power of absent women. I kneel at the altar of women’s most infamous medium of cloth, which has silently, or not so silently, kept women’s account through history.
I find myself in a role of intimate listening* to the voice of women through cloth.
Sitting and making with women is something that constantly characterises my practice, and in the recent absence of this I have sat in a circle of women’s words and works* which talk to each other in a constant chatter;
knitting a practice which is an ode, a sonnet,
to the ones even underneath the rubble*.
The name of this praxis is Caring Cloth, which has the boldness to claim the potential of care through the making of textiles. It names ‘radical compassion’*, story*, time*, ‘quiet disruption'*, 'delicate activism'*, and 'openness to the unknown'*, amongst its toolkit, and locates itself in sustainability’s social justice*.
Louise Bourgeois’ words ring in my ears, continually informing the praxis of Caring Cloth:
‘The needle is used to repair damage, it's claim to forgiveness’*.
Medium:Embroidery, Mixed Media, Photography
Caring Cloth Praxis — Distinction Dissertation Research:
'Caring Cloth: ‘The needle is used to repair damage, it’s claim to forgiveness’¹: How could socially engaged textiles practice be developed with women globally through care?' ___________
Selected research for the 2021 Royal College of Art Critical and Historical Studies Symposium
In my work I have understood for a long time that opacity means power. I have got on planes to meet women behind a thickened veil of opacity which kept them from being heard, seen, known, named, valued. Our structures of supply needed them as commodity but did not acknowledge their humanity. If opacity is power then I have known traceability and transparency as sisters of resistance. I guess it makes sense now then that I end up literally undoing. Literally unmaking. To make transparent the ‘opaque structures of history and power’*. The first thread is always the hardest to pull, but if you unpick thread by thread, with an almost surgical detail, if you take away with care, painstakingly, bent over double -
there is a methodology of caring deconstruction, for repair by unpicking, undoing and unmaking as care and repair -
there is a deconstructing of history, until there’s enough space for rebuilding, for starting over, ‘to make visible as an act of care’*, to hear a different story long concealed, long kept behind: hers.
Woven structures provide a fragment and a remnant of what was, which gives a structure for rebuilding, revealing or concealing layers of power and history and inviting imagination of rebuilt structures that could be recreated, following the careful and conscious deconstruction of the structures which enable terminal inequality. Doing Undoing provides the foundation for making something of absences.
Medium:Embroidery, Mixed Media, Photography
A material meditation on the voice of cloth, considering cloth's politicised and conflicted status, both inherently valued and undervalued simultaneously:
Cloth is a Spokesperson
I bend my ear to hear her important voice
She draws you in with tales of mountain roads and factor floors
Why does she whisper so quietly?
No wonder she can no longer be heard above the humdrum of ten thousand machines
Who told her she cannot speak up?
Truly you wıll not find her singing in these close quarters,
Only in the slowness you will pick out her delicate melody
Lean in and listen well,
For what she has to say is worth hushing the room for