by Edi Muka
All I could do was to offer you an opinion upon one minor point — a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved. I have shirked the duty of coming to a conclusion upon these two questions — women and fiction remain, so far as I am concerned, unsolved problems.*
Virginia Woolf begins her extended essay, A Room of Ones Own, by drawing our attention to this “minor point” as she calls it, focusing on two aspects: a. that in order to write fiction (read create) a woman needs a room of her own; b. that the true nature of woman and fiction remain unsolved (therefore intrinsically intertwined).
Šejla Kamerić seems to be banking on memory (collective and individual) as her “creative capital”, but she has also turned it into a kind of “room of her own”, from which she takes all the threads she needs for weaving and telling her stories.
For her solo show at Galerie Tanja Wagner, Kamerić presents us with two sets of works: Red Carpet (2011) – a six meters long hand woven carpet, made of second hand clothes and items only in red color; and Hooked (2010), a number of gigantic spider-web-like handmade crochets, and a set of ink drawings.
The works function both by analogy and by connotation, while the aesthetic stances adopted by the artist raise issues of gender-specific perspectives with reference to real events. Analogy can be drawn with the ancient myth of the woman-artist-weaver, Philomela, who was raped and mutilated by Tereus, king of Sparta and brother in law. In the same way as Philomela used weaving to testify her story, Kameric also uses knitting and weaving with a twist. The works are originally born from an obsession the artist developed during the years of the siege– a kind of doodling with the hook and the thread. Shared by many Bosnian women during the war time, and consisting of a repetitive behavioral pattern, “a syndrome of animals held in captivity” as Kamerić describes it. The obsession initially takes form in the series of drawings hanging among the crochets. Even though small in scale, they like to take up space but revel in their insubstantiality. There’s no beginning and no end to be traced. The constant movement of the hand seems to be guided by a vagrant mind.
In Hooked and Red Carpet, Kamerić goes on to subvert the cozy delicacy and intimacy of the traditional doily form, or the decorative function of the rug. There is no concrete or direct story to be told through images or words. Totally estranged from their familiar functions, the doilies are hard to fit even on walls, while the carpet exhorts some strange attractiveness to look at, without being able to decipher what it really is. Oversized in proportions, the crochets imitate life forms – gigantic spider webs – acquiring an uneasy feeling of menace. The carpet on the other hand plays along with the many connotations of the color Red, and its various readings and understandings in different cultural and historical contexts. Intimate, while at the same time a possible social commentary, Red Carpet undermines commonsensical expectations related to the artist’s background. It rather functions as a visualization of memory, with its potential for recovery of things once lost and now re-found, and with objects but also possible meanings interlaced among its folds.
By hiring other women to realize the works, Kamerić is expanding the circle of real participants not only in the physical act of weaving, but also in the implied act of witnessing. Therefore, Hooked and Red Carpet perform a double function: on one hand side they serve to recover the silenced testimony of innumerable stories about cruelty and prejudice towards Bosnian women during the war; on the other hand, the act of knitting is symbolically turned into a form of (mental) resistance. The works thus lead us towards the gender aspects of the piece not by the mere critique of weaving as a traditionally female craft, but rather by referring to the many untold stories of real women sitting behind the needle and the shuttle.
However, as aforementioned, Kamerić is not trying to tell us one particular story, neither is she advocating for one particular truth. Considering the complexity of her works, in order to get some entry for possible readings, one should maybe refer back to another passage from Virginia Woolf’s, A Room of One’s Own:
“At any rate, when a subject is highly controversial […] one cannot hope to tell the truth. […] One can only give one’s audience the chance of drawing their own conclusions as they observe the limitations, the prejudices, the idiosyncrasies of the speaker. Fiction here is likely to contain more truth than fact.”**
*A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf, Annotated Edition Copyright 2005, by Harcourt. Inc
**A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf, Annotated Edition Copyright 2005, by Harcourt. Inc