River Runs Through
River Runs Through was one of my favourite projects, because it gave me the opportunity to meet with members of the Sudanese community in Brighton, UK, to discuss reflections on what it meant to them to grow up in the vicinity of the River Nile, as I did as a child. This research gave the group a unique chance to discuss memories and come together through creative workshops where we explored Sudanese-Arabic culture through discussion and making activies - a very emotional experience for us all but also a lot of fun! Another part of my research involved returning to Khartoum to draw inspiration from the Nile and revisit the places I knew from my youth. With these elements forming the basis of a creative narrative for the project, I collaborated with artist Mike Barrett to begin a series of experiments in blending textile printing and innovative glass making techniques to tell the story of migrations from Sudan to Britain. It culminated in an installation of new work at Fabrica Gallery, Brighton in March 2018. A couple of short films documenting the project are shown here. Below I go through the development process of this project.
Elements included in our creative design were laminated glass, fused glass and hot glass. These were combined with textiles to give the finished product, consisting of laminated glass panels within an installation structure:
The fabric within the laminated glass panels and represent childhood memories and experiences from before I became deaf; they reflect my recollections of the sounds, colours and sensations of being near the Nile. The fabric was printed with layers of images and shapes to represent ripples in the water and the trees that line the banks. These images were built up in layers and I used Devore on velvet-viscose-satin to create a sense of transparency to mimic the quality of water.
The fabric was printed with layers of images and shapes to represent ripples in the water and the trees that line the banks. These images were built up in layers and I used Devoré on velvet-viscose-satin to create a sense of transparency to mimic the quality of water.
I also used the geography of Khartoum as a screen-printed image – the lighter shades running through the middle of the fabric show how the Nile splits in Khartoum with the White Nile continuing to the north-west (left) and the Blue Nile to the north-east (right).
And after heat treatment ...
The third element in the installation included the use of poured hot glass. Again, glass fibre fabric was used to print on, since any other fabric would be completely destroyed during this technique. We used clay to print on this fabric and I collected brass trinkets and shells from Sudan that we incorporated into the design. In one piece, we even included one of my hearing aid batteries (unfortunately, the piece that included the shell and the battery was destroyed during the installation process; a huge disappointment to me as it was my favourite one).
Unglazed then glazed fabric sample
Marks on sample fabrics using clay
The clay was also mixed with some sandalwood as this is a very popular cosmetic product used a lot in Sudan as bodily adornment. The printed glass fibre was sandwiched between two layers of hot poured glass and then rolled out to make irregular shapes. As a result, only distorted fragments of the fabric remained trapped inside the rippled glass. We were pleased to see that the clay on the fabric proved a good choice as the colours it provided echoed the colours I remember from Sudan and also proved quite resilient to the destructive nature of the process.
This project was inspired by my research and development trip to Sudan where I was shocked to discover that the Khartoum of my childhood memories no longer existed in many quarters. Khartoum has undergone massive modernisation and many of the places that filled my memories of childhood were gone. Although my memories of them remain, they too are distorted and fragmented by age, time and experience. The unpredictable nature of the poured hot glass seemed a perfect metaphor for what happens to our childhood memories and experiences as we move further from them in time and distance.