A women's group in Plymouth, supported by the Plymouth & Devon Race Equality Council, has launched a symbolic cloak-making project to address areas of history's colonial past.
The 'No Woman is an Island Project' is part of Mayflower 400 Community Sparks - a partnership project between Mayflower 400, Plymouth Culture, Plymouth City Council, The Box and Vital Sparks – and is being led by Plymouth & Devon Race Equality Council's community development worker, Vanessa Crosse, and mixed-media artist, Helen Snell.
The project sees a group of women making wearable cloak garments using a range of craft skills including weaving, laser cutting, fabric painting, embroidery, beadwork and tassel making, to create unique cloaks that bring to light elements of colonial history across the globe.
Prior to lockdown, members of the women's group visited RAMM in Exeter and The Box in Plymouth to study objects connected to Britain’s colonial past.
They also looked at rituals associated with colonialism such as taking tea and the history of tea plantations, as well as drawing inspiration from designs on artefacts, elements of cultural garments, beads and headdresses.
The women in the group have come from all walks of life, some of whom have ancestors directly affected by slavery, others who have family links to Sri Lanka and Pakistan – countries affected by colonisation and British colonial rule.
Aboriginal garments and the impacts of colonisation on Indigenous people have also been studied and some women have drawn upon a range of historical influences to develop their garment design.
Usually meeting weekly in person at Sherwell Church - a church in itself that acknowledges Plymouth’s Mayflower history with its stained glass window depicting a scene of the Pilgrims departing on the Mayflower from the Barbican - the group have been communicating via Zoom during lockdown to continue open conversations about the project and its meaning.
The cloaks, once finished, will be exhibited in 2021 as part of the Mayflower 400 commemorations.
The women will also organise a ceremonial 'wearing' of the cloaks by connecting the women and cloaks together in a circle to symbolise unity with historical roots and stories shared through acknowledgment of these handcrafted garments and what they symbolise.
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