Image: Mariana Gella, Veil No.2 (detail).
Mariana Gella’s artwork explores themes of cultural heritage, femininity, mythology and magic and aims to stimulate conversation about the connection between women and the divine and the manifestation of the spiritual world in the applied arts.
Interested in reviving and honouring ancient crafts and techniques from different cultures, her process focuses on conceptual archaeology, and is expressed through the use and combination of antique materials including textiles, jewellery and natural pigments. She says: “As women, we have been translating our world and beliefs through textiles, jewellery and even tattoos on our skin for centuries. We prayed to the divine with symbols and used them as a talisman. Women both created and wore these artistic symbols — making the decorated female body itself a symbol of cultural identity.”
Image: Veil No.1. 22 x 57cm. Moroccan Traditional Adrar wool veil from the Feija tribe, with henna designs and embroidered with old jewellery pieces from India, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan.
Gella explores these traditions and the skills passed down generations in order to connect to ‘the magic’ of these techniques and symbols.
“I intend to weave a new conceptual story by creating a ‘feminine-energy memory collage’, a collection of pieces of history and symbolism portraying women’s wisdom and connection to the divine.”
As an architect and artist, Gella explores and combines ancient and new techniques to honour and celebrate craft traditions by adding new elements or reinventing them. With this collage of techniques, materials and cultures she intends to achieve balance between the visual and conceptual elements of her work, connecting different worlds, stories and craftsmanship through different geographical and historical planes.
Fully committed to a life of research, creation and meditation, Gella seeks to bring elements of history and symbolism into her work. The focus on raw materials, self-exploration, incorporation of ancient pieces, worn and used by other anonymous women in history are all vital components of her process.
Image: Veil No.2. 77 x 70cm. Moroccan Traditional Adrar wool veil from the Feija tribe, with henna designs and embroidered with old jewellery pieces from India, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, recreating talismanic symbols.
Women and the Divine
Gella’s series Women and the Divine is an exploration of auspicious symbols and shapes that were worn by tribal women, first in the form of facial and body tattoos, and later replaced by henna drawings, on hand-woven wool veils and jewellery. In many cultures, jewellery represented power and would give the wearer identity and status, while also providing the wearer with the protection of an amulet, and the enhancement of beauty.
Henna cloth is a deeply symbolic form of textile art which was historically made and worn by the women of Southern Morocco and believed to have ritual protective and cleansing powers. Believed to be a sacred plant, henna was used in ceremonies to bless, cleanse and protect those present.
Image: Veil No.1 (detail)
Tattoos in a tribal context were as much a communicator as they were means of adornment. They could be understood in the capacity of an expression of self, a sign of religious belonging, or relieving symptoms of spiritual or physical ills. Many tattoo designs were of a style and placement on the body so as to offer protection from the evil eye. Indeed, the name for Berber tattoos is ‘Jedwel’ — meaning Talisman. “The tattoo ritual thus generated a rhythmic interweaving of patterns of worldly and heavenly life, linking women as the guardians of family traditions to the realm of the sacred.”
In all cases textiles, jewellery and tattoos served as a means of portraying one's identity through the female body. Gella’s series of embroidered textiles and jewellery sculptures explores this connection, and creates a woven atlas where the common knowledge from all the unconnected, anonymous women involved in the creation of each piece is combined and unified. Gella says: “Creating this piece has not only been a journey of self-discovery, but an intimate ritual connecting me to ancient cultures and female energy.”