December 21, 2014

Trees Are Poems

"Trees Are Poems" 2014

"Trees are poems that earth writes upon the sky" - Kahlil Gibran

A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in.
- Greek Proverb

This piece is hand-stitched on fabric, and is relatively large at 24"x16". It's the first time I used carbon paper to transfer the design directly onto the fabric from the template. I got the main image by combining two photographs from the book "Portraits of the Insane" (subtitled 'The Case of Dr Diamond'). The book contains photographs of asylum patients from mid-nineteenth century Britain. One of the photographs was captioned "Acute Melancholia", and I chose it for both image and subject. The mosaic pattern of the dress is my design.

My original intention was to use only line stitch, but I ended up doing a type of fill stitch in the figure's face and hands and in the Palestinian sunbird that rests on her lap. The figure is surrounded by the outlines of olive leaves and olives, with repeating birdcages as the border. On reflection I like that the leaves and olives are rendered only in outline, making them seem less solid, like ghosts.

The subject of 'Trees Are Poems' is a response to my deep sadness about the desecration of Palestinian olive trees since 1967, both officially by the state of Israel and by its illegal settlers. It is estimated that between 800,000 and 1,000,000 trees have been uprooted, burned, and cut down. Thousands are destroyed each year; in October 2014 hundreds of trees were burned down by illegal settlers near Jerusalem that are believed to be some of the worlds oldest, trees from a lineage that are mentioned in the Old Testament. 

Besides being an integral part of the Palestinian economy, the olive tree is deeply connected to Palestinian culture, heritage and identity. Their destruction is a huge part of the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine and has been compared to the destruction of the buffalo in the genocide of Native Americans. This ongoing devastation is also a tragedy for the entire world: these trees belonged to the planet, a heritage that is lost to of all of us. 

'Trees Are Poems' is not a portrait of any particular person, and I'm not trying to represent a Palestinian woman. I intended the figure to personify an Archetypal Feminine, mourning the loss of nature and the suffering imposed on a whole culture. But of course she also symbolizes an aspect of myself, coming from my own feelings of grief about this indefensible destruction.

Update: On January 1, 2015 Jewish settlers uprooted 5,000 olive tree saplings near Ramallah on Palestinian land. They also broke the roots so they can't be replanted. The saplings had been planted in mid-December in honor of Palestinian official Zaid Abu Ein, who died after being beaten by an Israeli Occupation soldier during a demonstration to support tree planting and against land confiscation.

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