Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Studio Series: Sanctuary/Exile 1

Sanctuary/Exile 1 © Karen Thiessen 2000; Photo: Julian Beveridge
Sanctuary/Exile 1 is one of my favourite pieces, and it is now in the collection of the Nova Scotia Art Bank. In 2001, it won an award in the exhibition Watermark at the Mary Black Gallery and as a result I met the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Myra Freeman. Sanctuary/Exile is part of the Wide Borders series and you can read the essay here.


I dyed most of the fabric with onion skins and various mordants and stained some of the onion-dyed fabric with rust. Ted Hutten, a farmer from the Halifax Farmers' Market, gave me the onion skins, and with Halifax water they dyed a rich gold. Using the same Hutten onion skins with Toronto water yielded disappointing (pale) results. It's all about the chemistry between the onion skins and the water. Where onions are grown has a big effect on colour too. 


While I was hand-quilting Sanctuary/Exile, I was thinking about the Kosovo War and how the situation of the ethnic Albanians paralleled the horrors that my grandparents and great-grandparents experienced in South Russia (present-day Ukraine). Sanctuary/Exile refers to the duality of leaving your homeland in search of safety-- the new country is a sanctuary, and yet it is also exile. You are safe, but you have to learn a new language, new customs, make new friends. You leave behind a landscape, a culture, and loved ones. During the conflict, several Albanian refugee families moved to Halifax and I was honoured to help one family settle in and learn how to navigate their new language and culture. Laughter and a dog-eared English-Albanian dictionary served us well.