Textured (Hi)Stories chapter II: ReMembering

Mekeio boarding house, Ioannina, Greece
June, 2019

Part of Textured Hi Stories : ReMembering, special thanks to Mala RG, Rania Kordali, Anna Tsintzou and Esther Solomon

Textile and video installation

This project is the second phase of ongoing work and research.

After spending two weeks in the nearly abandoned women's gallery (Ezrat Nashim) of the Kahal Kadosh Yashan Romaniote synagogue in Ioannina, the interdisciplinary artist Adi Liraz has developed a project inspired by the mass of sewing machines the women of the community left behind in the wake of their deportation on March 25th 1944.

The machines tell the story of the two-thousand-year-old Romaniote community—a culture on the verge of extinction—and specifically of its women and their form of storytelling and knowledge production through textile work.

Local textile work in Ioannina and Epirus evidences transcultural influence among Orthodox Christian, Ottoman Muslim, and Romaniote and Sephardi Jewish women and families. It is from our vantage in time a radical and open feminist practice that challenges our political imagination and causes us to rethink local history. By investigating these herstories, the artist’s attempt is to redefine concepts of home and belonging, which resist nationalistic and patriarchal mind settings.

Inspired by the sewing machines and this context, the artist has produced an installation of textile and video artworks that document her working process in the synagogue as connected to her personal and collective identity as a descendant of the Ioannina Romaniote community. The installation investigates concepts of home and belonging as a necessary step in the greater condemnation of the violence of patriarchy and (all forms of) nationalism.

Exhibited additionally are two “History Dresses” whose creation process are collaborative and performative, essentially made through two different actions:
1) The dresses were stained during storytelling performances, where in gallery spaces the artist narrated threads of her family history, and 2) Parts of the dresses were labored on in public spaces of significance to Ioannina's Romaniote history. This second action was accomplished in collaboration with a group of art students from the University of Ioannina, co-directed by Dr. Esther Solomon, in the previous year.

In "Textured (Hi)Stories chapter II: ReMembering", the artist reflects on current political crises, the rise of nationalism, imperialism, and post-colonialism, in an attempt at solidarity and the re-creation of collective historical ideals that resist constructions of nation and race, in order to rethink and reimagine a just and possible future.

Sound in the background:

ReMembering: Interviews / Adi Liraz

2018-19, Video-artwork, 25.41 minutes

During the last year and a half, I have sent the questions below to different women with Jewish - Romaniote heritage, mostly from Ioannina. I have received some sound recordings, some videos and on some occasions visited their houses or met with them in cultural centres or at the hospital. One interview was given to me to use by Chrysanthos Constandinidis and another is taken from an old documentary of an Israeli TV channel.

* I would like to know how and when did you learn embroidering, knitting, crocheting and sewing? Who taught you, and in which kind of surroundings were you working with this craft?
What do you know about other women in your family in this connection? Do you have any memories of watching other women in your family working with textile?
What was the use of this work, where was it placed and in which way?
What kind of role, if at all, does textile work play in your life today?

The second part is connected to your identity(ies), how would you define yourself in connection to cultural identity? And how much and in which way do you feel you were the one taking decisions about your own life?

List of voices participating, by order of appearance:

Anna Garty (Bacola)
Shelly (Rachel) Liraz (Lubliner-Moissis-Levi)
Stella (Esther) Cohen
Allegra Matsa
Eftichia Sampetai (Konstantini-Levi)
Mazal Eftychia Mione Shuster
Anna Cohen
Stella (Esther) Cohen
Allegra Matsa

Textured (Hi)Stories: Remembering / Α group exhibition

A collaboration between students of the MA program "Exhibition Curating: Theoretical and Practical Approaches" of the School of Fine Arts, University of Ioannina, and the artist Adi Liraz

Location: Mekeio Foundation of Ioannina

Opening: June 10th, 8 pm

On show:10th to 14th June 2019

Memories, experiences, identities, stories of women from Ioannina and elsewhere.

Who are these people, whose voices have been silenced for years?

Which aspects of collective identity are brought to the forefront through the artistic treatment of clothes and textiles?

How is the notion of tradition, as well as the practices traditionally considered as “women´s labour” such as sewing, weaving, embroidery and knitting, related to contemporary art and the current political and ideological issues at stake?

The exhibition Textured (Hi)Stories: ReMembering aspires to give answers to these questions through a series of actions (exhibition, performances, educational programmes, open workshops). What is explored through the project is the role of memory and its relation to textile knowledge production labour that is usually done by, and associated with women. The project also attempts to explore different ways of perceiving the present, past and future social life in Ioannina and beyond, by juxtaposing in a non-linear time scale parallel narratives that are in dialogue with each other.

This exhibition is a collaboration between the artist Adi Liraz, an interdisciplinary artist with Romaniote (Yanniote-Jewish) roots who lives in Berlin and has presented her work internationally, and the graduate students of the School of Fine Arts, whose role is multifaceted: they act as curators, ethnographers and creative contributors of artworks in various fields. Together with Adi Liraz, they are in search for lost or unseen local stories. The exhibition intends to bring to the spotlight a number of diverse forgotten personal and collective narratives that have been forgotten, and connect them to the present, using Ioannina as a point of departure. The project can be thought of as an attempt to resist practices that aim to homogenize identities by encouraging a political imagination and by the creation of a fabric of solidarity, co-influence and exchange.

Inspired by the artist’s and students’ personal, family and local past, as well as their material trace in clothes, and textiles of all kinds, the exhibition is taking place at the Mekeion Boarding School for girls of Ioannina from the 10th to the 15th of June 2019. The projects focuses on groups and individuals who until recently had no "voice" or representation in the public sphere. It highlights the city of Ioannina as a place of convergence of different ethnic, social and cultural narratives, while at the same time it proposes new curatorial practices in the field of art exhibitions.

The starting point of the exhibition, and especially in the case of Adi Liraz’s work, are the sewing machines that belonged to the women of the Jewish (Romaniote) community of Ioannina, who were persecuted during the Second World War. Their sewing machines (two of which were preserved for the needs of the exhibition) are the carriers of traces, of time and memory, and they were left for decades at the Kahal Kadosh Yashan Synagogue in the Castle of Ioannina. 75 years after the end of the Second World War, these sewing machines as well as local motifs, patterns, and symbols that refer to the Romaniote culture in Epirus of the Ottoman and Modern Period become a source of artistic inspiration and the embodiment of social knowledge, as well as a political commentary on the possibilities of coexistence of different cultural communities

In the same vein of the dynamic and unbreakable memory-identity relationship that characterizes an increasing number of contemporary art exhibitions, the rest of the works presented in Mekeio also narrate the stories of unknown women. Their crafts, their voices, knowledge, and practices come across modern social issues through the ethnographic view of the postgraduate students who take part in the exhibition. Personal items, sewing machines, looms, etc. of the boarding school interact with performing arts, video art, poetry, sound environments, even with smells, variously involved in local policies of memory.

Finally, the Textured (Hi)Stories: ReMembering exhibition project implements an original practice based on collective processes. The active participation of the group in the exhibition highlights a different model of diligence that promotes co-creation, coexistence, pluralism, and respect for diversity, in the context of designing multi-sensory exhibition experiences. The place and the objects of the boarding school become a field of creative work for Adi Liraz and the students who have worked in continuous interaction with the women of the Mekeio; they document every step of their work and make use of this experience as a narrative tool in an attempt to communicate effectively with the people of Ioannina and their past.

By all this, the aim of the exhibition and its program is to create a sense of belonging and to build community-based social structures.

Supervision and coordination of the project: Dr. Esther Solomon, Assistant Professor of Museology, School of Fine Arts, University of Ioannina, and Adi Liraz
With special thanks for Mrs. Allegra Matza for the collaboration.

With the kind support of Asylum Arts, University of Ioannina, and Mekeio Foundation of Ioannina.

Sponsors: Πρόκος, Εκδόσεις Ισνάφι
Openings’s sponsors: Damiani l’ artista, Ioannina, Ζυθοποιία Ηπείρου Στάλα