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The Common Thread

Through the process of participatory design, Swiss artist Elisabeth Masé, residing in Berlin, utilises embroidery as a means of communication in iterations of Das Kleid, or The Dress. Masé designed a prototypical simple linen dress to serve as a singular canvas for collective embroidery. Over the course of several days, a myriad of women from a wide range of cultural backgrounds with varying skills gathered to express their unique perspectives of migration and place using needle and red thread.

Typical cultural constraints such as language, origin, and status were neutralised when participants donned similar red dresses prior to sitting down to work together.  With minimal instruction, each had the opportunity to position and stitch a phrase, image, or motif depicting individual thoughts, experiences, or dreams on the blank canvas of one dress. Participants found community through the process of making art. Das Kleid is the embodiment of a shared experience and an intercultural dialogue through the common language of stitch. Masé describes this style of embroidery as social painting.

The first iteration of Das Kleid was created in Berlin in 2017 among women representing a cross section of the ever changing local cultural landscape, from those who have always considered Berlin home to refugees longing for home and seeking a new sense of place.  Within a similar artistic framework, Elisabeth Masé will generate the next iteration of Das Kleid at the onset of the exhibit HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN. MIGRATION IN CONTEMPORARY ART, opening 7 September 2019 at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art on the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, New York.

Guest post by Catherine K. Blumenkamp. Read next: Zoe F Wills' article Actions Speak Louder in the Folklore issue. Subscribe to Selvedge here.



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