Textile as Resistance
Mashid Mohadjerin and Samira Bendadi
Clothes are our second skin. Through clothes we symbolically communicate with the rest of the world, they provide insights into our histories and stories, they carry within their folds entire systems of meanings. In that sense, clothes are a unique and dynamic conduit of visual expression. Visual artist Mashid Mohadjerin and journalist Samira Bendadi, bring forth stories of exile, cultural displacement, violence, women’s role in resistance, all through clothes, fashion and textiles in their photo book Textiles of Resistance: The power of fabrics without slogans. “Textiles are the common thread throughout the book and the exhibition, forming both literally and figuratively the connecting element between people, communities and cultures.”
Photograph by Mashid Mohadjerin.
Mashid, through her photographs tries to “visualize something that has already happened,” that which was traumatic, that which had violent consequences, that which left many families in a quest to start anew. In the process of uprooting and rerooting, it’s the women, the mothers who assume the most important role, striving for survival and family cohesion.Through a mix of portraiture and documentary photography, she transforms the refugees from faceless abstractions into human beings, and provides a glimpse into their lives, resilience, creativity in the face of displacement and trauma.
The stories begin from Belgium and take us to Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, and other countries. Samira Salah is one of the first generation of Palestinian refugees expelled from their villages and towns after the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. Salah trains women living in Ein al-Hilweh, the largest Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, in the art of embroidery. The intention is to help these women earn an income and become financially independent. There isn’t much demand for traditional Palestinian attire, except for weddings. In the face of Israeli occupation of her homeland, she fears her cultural heritage will be appropriated as well. “We do not forget and we teach our children not to forget.”
Zena Sabbagh, who fled from Syria to Lebanon, transformed her living room into a studio within a year of moving, welcoming women who wanted to sew and embroider. “At this table, we embroider, sew and print fabrics. At this table, we eat and party. Here, stories are told and many tears have already flowed,” Zena shares. Return is not a possibility anymore. Zena has plans to move to Paris at some point. Similarly, Ounsiat Jozef who fled Iraq remembers Iraq, but having experienced so much fear and threat for life in that country, she has accepted her fate. She too, like Zena, hopes to make it out of Lebanon, perhaps to Canada. “I can’t go back, but I’ve told my sons I want to be buried in Iraq.”
Photograph by Mashid Mohadjerin.
Clothing and fashion essentially form a visual metaphor for human identity. African fashion reflects the complex histories of European colonialism on the continent, and the cultural negotiation with the modernizing effects of globalization. Fashion enthusiasts have been evolving aesthetics to celebrate Black culture and identity using geometric patterning and bold colors. Idriss, a dressmaker from Senegal, who now lives in Antwerp, is happy with the resurgence of African fashion, especially among the youth. “When I started in this profession, I thought I would be one of the last tailors. African fabric was for the mamas. But now young people who’ve never set foot in Africa want to show up in an African outfit on all their festive occasions, from baptisms to engagements and marriages.” Samira Bendadi beautifully describes this process of decolonisation as “something (the tailors) touch every day, something they cut through with scissors and constantly try to give new shape to with needle and thread.”
Idriss's workshop in Matongé district.
Show by designer Kristel Bukasa during African Fashion Week - Meise BotanicGarden, Belgium (2019)
The funeral ceremony is considered one of the most important ceremonies in a person’s life-death cycle. Different religious beliefs provide traditional guidelines for clothing the dead. Although variations might occur across cultures, plain white lengths of cotton are used to clothe the deceased regardless of gender, avoiding ostentation and emphasizing equality after death. This plain white item of clothing, known as shroud, is also “sometimes used in protest actions to show that people are not afraid of death.” Textiles of Resistance begins with stories of courage and resilience, adaptation and assimilation, identity assertion; and ends with the grim reality of forced migration. The Mediterrarean sea has become a “mass graveyard” and has claimed many lives of those fleeing from violence crammed in overcrowded and unsafe boats.
View of Turkey from the Greek coast, where in 2015, 210,000 migrants arrived in overloaded dinghies. Mitilini, Greece.