Hope – weaving communities together

Elaine Foster-Gandey graduated with an MA in Inclusive Arts Practice in 2019. Elaine then started work as an Inclusive Arts Practitioner running workshops with marginalized groups including mental health, visual impairment, learning disabilities.  In 2020, Elaine had some extra time on her hands because all her freelance work was cancelled and she came up with an idea for a project called ‘HOPE’. Here is her story…..

How could I help make a difference in these very extreme times we were all living in? How could art help make a difference?

I started to research local Museums and found that Maidstone had a textile collection and arranged a visit. The Tapa cloths intrigued me, they looked like they had been woven together. Traditionally, women made the Tapa cloths from the bark of the mulberry tree for ceremonial costumes and I had come from a long line of women who worked with fabric. My Grandmother was a seamstress and I loved to watch her sculpt fabric into dreams as a child and in fact I have ancestors who were instrumental in the weaving industry in Scotland and England.

About this time I was starting to teach weaving online and experimenting with scale. I think the teaching, combined with the inspiration from the Tapa cloths ignited my passion to experiment and find different ways to do things. I wanted to work with others, to collaborate. I felt lonely at times, I had my family, of which I am very grateful, but I missed interacting with others.

As an Inclusive Arts Practitioner I had been running workshops with marginalised groups but this all stopped understandably in the pandemic. Incentivised, I applied for an Arts council grant and after a lot of hard graft, the project was accepted and I was able to start running workshops when the government gave the green light. Myself and artists Nadya Derung and Alison Cotton taught sewing, weaving, paper making and Hapa zome/eco printing. I sent out packs of fabric to groups and individuals who were unable to meet in person, invited groups to write on the strips of fabric including refuge, the nepalese ladies group, the visually impaired, the elderly, a number of schools including Valley park state school in Maidstone, Sackville school and Beechwood school in Kent, children from the Oasis Project – substance misuse service for women and their children based in the heart of Brighton, LGBT students, Church groups and more.

The giant sculptural dress woven with words of hope on recycled fabric literally brings together all aspects of my work as an artist, Collaboration, Fashion, Textiles, Sculpture and the use of narrative.

The fabric was donated by Poplar works, London College of Fashion, in a time of great change in the fashion industry, recycling is a necessity to enable sustainability. To reflect this, the material used is left-over fabric from student collections donated.

My creative ambition for ‘Hope’ was to work with marginalized groups, encourage participation through workshops, bring communities together and start new conversations that allowed all voices to be heard. The result is an exciting and thought provoking artwork incorporating words of ‘Hope’ helping viewers to engage and ask questions. I hope you agree.

The project has been listed on sites including Maidstone Museum,

Visit South East England & boing boing and a podcast will be available to hear online soon.

I hope you can get involved with this project, online or visiting the touring venues and any feedback is always welcome.

Follow Elaine:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/fostergandey/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elainefostergandeyart/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/elainefoster_ga

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