Grief, Textile and The Creative Process

I was up in Manchester for meetings about work current and future the last few days. I went to the Craft Design Centre, looked in on my work and had lunch with Kate (Direcrot) /Kaylee (Exhibitions) and heard that, shock horror, the comments book got stolen last week!. Strange thing to lift, I hope whoever has it will read and enjoy, luckily Kaylee had transcribed a lot of it, but some responses will be lost. And of course there will be many responses I will never know anything about, which is both a comforting and disconcerting aspect of having your work in public. Sometimes they come back years later, from random meetings with people who have contributed to or seen the work – this happened quite a few times with The Gifts at unexpected moments.

They had also just finished editing the Artist Talk: Grief, Textile and the Creative process that I gave on the opening day, now up on vimeo. The edited version is 18 minutes long. It was probably the most personal talk I have ever given or will ever on my work, and I realise that the whole process of this show and blog is another form of staged ‘closure’, another level of trying to complete the incompletable… This was underlined by the presence of my family in the room, my mirrors and also my rock.


I want…pomegranates and rosewater

Journal extract from 4.10.2007


It’s autumn now…and I am almost fully pregnant with my second child…we planted a pomegranate tree in the front garden, it was like planting my mother as i have such strong associations with her and that fruit. Her story of picking them from their orchard in Namin, (their village near Ardabil, North West Iran), throwing one against the wall to soften it and then piercing it to suck out the juice, feeling it hit the back of the neck..delicious…

A ritual i try to pass on whenever i can..(the method of eating, rather than the picking of course..we don’t expect actual fruit from ours..)

On Saturday there was a Birth Blessing Circle for me here with about 20 of my female friends,(mainly local) facilitated by my closest friend Maria. We began by drinking pomegranate and rosewater.

I had never heard of Birth blessings (or Blessingways as they are called in the US) but I knew I needed to be encircled by a loving community of women, as mum is not here this time around to encircle me like she did in 2004.

It was an extraordinary experience and enabled me to let go of my last birth experience, acknowledge my mother and my ancestors as present in the process, create a way of being for this birth – abandon and acceptance!

And, while being pampered and sung to by everyone, open up to the support and love of a warm gathering of great women from all eras of my life. It took place in the front room, where i will be labouring, which now feels like a very powerful and ready space. We feasted afterwards together with the men and children who joined us and I had made salmon with dill and rice, the dish mum used to make at large gatherings. It will soon be three years since she left this world and Delia arrived. 

Notes, looking back: I managed to birth Moses in that very room and we buried the placenta underneath the pomegranate tree – much to the alarm of some of my family…

More on: ‘I want’ (2012), which I posted up last time and which is on show in Manchester at the moment, is a small piece consisting of a wrapped pair of childs shoes. This edition is a personal one – they are Moses’ – first shoes and they are bound with an extract from a poem that I pulled out at random after wrapping, from Sufi poet Rumi (good old bibliomancy), entitled ‘Moses and The Shepherd’ (!), challenging notions that there is a ‘right’ way to address or worship the ‘divine’. A poem about service to a beloved other, from which I took:

(Moses heard a shepherd on the road praying, “God,
where are you?) I want to help You, to fix Your shoes and comb your hair. I want to wash Your clothes, and pick the lice off. I want to bring You milk, to kiss Your little hands and feet when it’s time, for You to go to bed. I want to sweep Your room and keep it neat. God, my sheep and my goats are Yours. All I can say, remembering You, is ayyyyyyy and ahhhhhhhh.”

Looking up this text online I found Coleman Barks (my favourite translator of Rumi) doing an accompanied reading of the whole poem, here. I love: ‘Burn up your thinking, Moses!’


Snow Falling in an Empty House: Diary extract from 22.3.2005

‘Dear Delia,

Today we drove (you, I, your dad, our friend Brianne who has come from France to be with us) to Papa Jaaan (my mothers) house for the first time since she died .

It was strange, everything was just as it was before she left, except for the piles of mail, the Christmas cards still on the mantelpiece and the cold – no heating. 
As I sat and breastfed you on the sofa, feeling sad she was not there, (though it felt like she might walk in the doorway any moment), it started to snow. Looking through the panoramic bay windows in front of me, beautiful, huge snowflakes swirling around outside against the green. It was almost spring! I felt it was HER – in the snowflakes, visiting us for 10 minutes in a burst of energy, true to style. Fleeting, but reassuring.


Note, looking back: I remember going through my mothers draws to smell her clothes – the scent of her perfume was still there. I brought the perfume bottle home and still occasionally (it used to be frequent over the first year) I take it out, spray it on my skin and inhale ..her, in some form. A feral memory.


Boxing Day, 9th Anniversary: Ashes, Lifeboats, Rice Cookers, Calm Seas.

Nine years. a cycle, the number of return, of completion. Am mindful of this number and its importance in The Gifts (2010) which was the first project I blogged about on this site and contained 999 objects the first 99 of which were my mothers effects merged with my own… the lowest object being the plastic birth clip from the Royal Free where Delia arrived into the world, bound with pink sari material from Sri-lanka I had been gifted by someone who also survived the Tsunami…

Nine years, it has been calm seas inside today. A contrast to past years. I have not felt very much at all beyond a certain peace and distance. The early anniversary days were spent in mixed states of intense emotion – the first year with many family members and friends eating Iranian food and toasting mum. The following alone in bed weeping and unable to rise, others on a rollercoaster of grief and relief. Always a pull to be by the water though, initially for the first few years a feeling of quiet panic as the Christmas period approached – the expectation of celebration –especially as a new young family – mixed with the dread of the hangover of boxing day and all it now meant. Avoiding watching TV, to keep free of the images that had haunted me in my dreams. An awareness that my mother was only one of 230,000 souls lost in the sea and many others displaced or disinherited of their land as developers moved in and re-appropriated their homes.

So, this Boxing Day – a sunny, calm day in contrast to the storms this week. My friend Lili (one of Delia’s godmothers) drove us through country roads immersed in water, whole fields turned to lakes from the recent storm. Arriving at Birling Gap, a deeply beautiful cove near Eastbourne, Seven Sisters, where my mother first landed in the UK in 1965 to study as a nurse and where she had specified in her will that she wishes her ashes to be scattered into the sea. And where we tipped her ashes, flown back from Phuket, into the water before turning the Hafez to give us a line.

The main exceptions to my calm state were:

1. On Christmas Day, opening a gift from one of my mothers oldest friends, Jila, who has kept in loving touch with us and relates to my children almost as grandchildren, in a way similar to I think my mum might have. I opened the gift, which was a Persian Rice Cooker – and immediately burst into tears. Like my mother would have, she had noticed I no longer possessed a fully working rice cooker, having turned 3 of my mothers the sculpture Mother Tongue, (in the current show) and given the other one away, leaving me one. This object still has such resonance for me. It IS she. It is a symbol of food as love, as social connection, nourishment and nostalgia, tadik – the crispy crust that all visitors to Iranian homes wait to pounce on when the lid if lifted…

2. On the beach today, in the fresh breeze and sunshine, watching the children jumping in and out of the edge of the waves, the crumbling white rock and us picking out a poem from Hafiz which both took my breath away, both left a tear and made us all laugh, it was so in tune with my mothers sense of humour:

The Great Religions

The Great Religions are the ships

Poets the life boats

Every sane person I know

Has jumped overboard

That is good for business

Isn’t it Hafiz?

Hafiz (trans. Daniel Ladinsky)


The Longest Night: Be refreshed in the darkness

Night cancels out the business of day

Inertia recharges the mind

Then the day cancels the night

And inertia disappears in the light.

Though we sleep and rest in the dark,

Doesn’t the dark contain the water of life?

Be refreshed in the darkness.

Doesn’t a moment of silence

Restore beauty to the voice?

Opposites manifest through opposites:

In the black core of the heart

God created the eternal light of love

Rumi – Masnavi (1, 3861-65)

I have been struggling with dualities, everywhere. Appropriate as I am writing this in the early hours of Shabi Yalda – ‘The Longest Night’ in Iran, or the Winter Solstice round here (Lewes is full of rituals, druids etc). Yalda means ‘rebirth of the sun’ and what I remember most growing up was the image of having to jump over a fire to ensure I got a decent husband later in life, must have been somewhat off the mark from the original spirit of using fire to encourage the sun to rise and overcome the darkness of winter…

Yalda was a favourite tradition of my mums (after Nowruz, the Persian New Year). She made ‘ashe reshte’, a soup of noodles, beans, greens and soured dry yoghurt and when I went to Tehran in 1998 I recall sitting around with my cousin and his friends trying to make sense of their bemused translations of Hafiz (‘The Invisible Tongue’) one of my favourite Sufi poets whose work it is a tradition to use for bibliomancy (divining the future with books). Since I am not bi-lingual my main access to Hafiz, is through the renderings of his work by Daniel Ladinsky – in particular the collection The Gift, which contains poems I pulled out at random and conceived whole new projects from as a result –Including The Bibliomancer’s Dream (2009). So I owe him much, yet I know I only glimpse the shadow and not the object in not having Farsi as my mother tongue. (which incidentally is the title of one of my first and favourite sculptures in the show, and speaks of lost language itself).

I was wondering which diary entry would be relevant to today and found one which communicates the duality present in the Rumi poem at the top: it is both devastating and hopeful, as – 6 weeks after my mum went missing – I started to read my dreams in an almost sobering way, as if to talk myself into stepping into a new space. So here it goes:

Dreams all around us (II) (Diary entry 8.2.2005)

I dreamt of my mum again. She was cooking in the next room in a house I wasn’t familiar with and I went in

quickly, in case she disappeared. She was in pink. I told her ‘I love you. Do you love me?’ and hugged her. She was detached but said yes – I think. I said ‘I miss you’. At that point she was in blue and just glided by, untouchable. 
Then she was at the stove again and turned on the gas flame, a high flame. I asked if she wanted us to set up a memorial fund in her name, and she just disappeared. 

What was that saying (Buddhist?): ‘In the face of death, have no attachment or aversion’? – I guess it’s the only way to be free of this world, in the next world, whatever that really means. 
Also, she can’t answer my questions anymore – I have to find my own answers. This feels so sad, and I miss her so much. 
The second part of the dream I remember was in a house with a lot of people – the same people? Lots of them got gassed and died – by accident I think – but I survived along with a few others. I looked into the mirror to check I was alive; I wanted to live, to wake up and live. 
Today is a beautiful sunny day and its Leo’s birthday, my love. And Delia’s head has grown a bit overnight!