Review - Inspired by Tilleke Schwarz's Strange Society

by - Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Inspired by our Strange Society was the apt title of the lecture given by Dutch embroidery artist Tilleke Schwarz on September 12th. Tilleke's return to Vancouver was welcomed by a full house. THe audience were not disappointed as Tilleke presented a wide-ranging survey of her work and inspiration delivered with her characteristic dry wit. For reader's who might be new to Tilleke's work we are pleased to reprint Bonnie Adie's excellent introduction to the evening.

Good evening. All of us here tonight are so grateful we have Maiwa in our City providing us with the opportunity to enjoy so many wonderful lectures. Tonight is the third in this year’s series and I know you will be fascinated by what Tilleke Schwarz has to tell us – albeit without oil lamps and candles.

The title of this lecture is ‘Inspired by Our Strange Society’. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, Society is a large group of people who live together in an organized way, making decisions about how to do things and sharing work that needs to be done.

Over the centuries, societies have been depicted by writers and visual artists so that we today can learn about what societies from the past were like. We have all read or been read to fairy tales which originally began as simple stories orally passed through generations followed by the written word and illustrations. The significance of these is that the evolution of the fairy tale tells us about ourselves and our changing society.

Our very own First Nations and aboriginals throughout the world illustrate to us traditional meanings and personal stories through carved totem poles, drawings and dress.

But what about those who have commented on society through stitch? The Bayeaux Tapestry, a 70 metre long embroidery depicts the Battle of Hastings in 1066, but within that work, we see their ships, their animals and the way of life in those times.

The women in many countries of the world historically told stories of their lives through a language of stitches, colour, and motifs stitched on their garments and from those one could garner their observations, experiences, trials and tribulations.

Opus Anglicanum in 13th Century Britain was a most opulent time in embroidery, depicting society in both the religious and secular senses.

In Medieval times in England, highly prized personal documents were created in needlework, including heraldic imagery declaring pedigree through ancestry and marriage. Wealth and taste were expressed with exquisite craftsmanship.

More recent depictions of society in stitch is The Quaker Tapestry – a series of 75 separate crewel embroidered panels and is a ‘celebration of insights that have motivated the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) since their founding in 1652 and the Great Tapestry of Scotland which is comprised of 160 panels, a story of the Scots and stitched by over 1,000 of their people.

Throughout the world you will find stitched tapestries from which we glean so much history of societies, past and present.

This evening will allow us to follow the personal embroidery adventures of Tilleke Schwarz and take the opportunity to be inspired by a great artist who uses a needle and thread on cloth and gives us her interpretation of our society today. 

She uses ancient and traditional techniques with a contemporary eye. Her ‘stories’ are graffiti like, inspired by traditional samplers, the mass media, daily life and cats and full of graphic humour and text. They are ‘maps of modern life’. I wonder what those who follow us will think of our current society as they view her work in the future.

Tilleke’s work is extensively exhibited, and she lectures and teaches in her home country and abroad.

And here is a little known fact about Tilleke. Although she is from the Netherlands, she hates cheese. Now isn’t that interesting?

Bonnie Adie

Inspired? Check out our October Lectures. 

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