Jessica Merle is an embroidery artist in Durban, South Africa working with topics related to healing and trauma. Her latest piece, Rebirth, created over a span of two years, is an embroidery book that she was generous enough to share with Pink Things! We have a few pages of the book below, but to see the whole thing (and it's so beautiful!) you'll have to go in person starting this weekend to Bookness: South African Book Arts at the FADA Gallery, on view until April 29. Read Jessica's statement and check out a preview of Rebirth below!
Rebirth compiles a series of 23 embroideries that explore themes of metamorphosis, catharsis, and healing through the use of symbolic ‘stain-imagery’. This iconography draws on Ancient Greek beliefs that evacuation of bodily fluids like urine, vomit, and blood results in health of body and mind. Our bodily fluids are typically looked upon with disgust; in this context I portray the stains and marks left behind by such matter as more positive symbols of metamorphosis and physical and emotional catharsis and healing.
The repetitive process of embroidery mimics the psychological journey from trauma to healing and becomes cathartic as a quiet, repetitive task that allows for emotional processing and healing. It also leads to an understanding of how embroidery was demarcated as an ideal feminine hobby for quiet, obedient women.
Many of the embroidered pages are new and vintage handkerchiefs. The connection between the ‘feminine’ pinks and purples used in the handkerchief designs and the connotations of discretion and privacy that surround personal items like these is very intriguing. Much of the embroidery floss I used in Rebirth comes from collections given to me by my grandmothers and the colours range from soft peachy and pastel pinks to deep magentas and reds. In Rebirth, the colour pink, in its many appearances, depicts flesh, bodily fluids, scars, and scabs. It represents concepts of privacy and discretion. Pink is calming, and is the colour of personal retreat and our internal processes of catharsis and healing.
The book format of Rebirth enhances the narrative effect of the series. Each embroidery acts independently as a ‘page’ while becoming part of a larger story and can influence how people view and interpret this story. The act of binding the book and bringing the embroideries together reflects significantly on sewing as a metaphor for healing and suturing.
Jessica Merle was born in Durban, South Africa in 1991. She has recently completed an MAFA at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Centre for Visual Arts in Pietermaritzburg.
Merle’s background in craft has influenced her to predominantly use media like embroidery, textiles and ceramics in making 2D works and sculptures. She is greatly influenced by contemporary feminism and she uses her practice to draw attention to issues of gender and the experiences of women in South Africa. Merle finds important connections between her media and the themes present in her work. Cellular biology is a source of inspiration and Merle draws on this to create the visual vocabulary of her practice.
She has participated in a number of group shows during her studies. Merle currently lives and works in Durban and is building her career as a practicing artist.