Nilupa Yasmin: Weaving, Grief, Family and Photographs

Nilupa Yasmin tells us about her Here and Now Project with Midlands Arts Centre, and how it connects her to her grandmother.

তেরা Tera- A Star, my project for Here & Now with Midlands Arts Centre, started off with the intention of getting my Bibi (paternal grandma) out of the house to make some art with me. It sounded a lot simpler back then when I pitched the idea to Deborah Kermode, MAC’s CEO and Artistic Director. I also felt excitement when I discovered MAC has a Culture Club group aimed at providing creative activities and experiences for over-65s, filled with many interesting characters and their stories.

My first visit with Culture Club members entailed a weaving workshop. We spoke about the arts and crafts movement, and the gender roles associated with craft forms. Little to their surprise, many contemporary discourses today still talk about the association of different art forms with an idea of ‘women’s work’. I shared my skill of weaving with the group, and together we created our own weaving pieces from strips of printed photographs – my own from a previous artistic project featuring the vibrant colours of market stalls, and women’s saris.

We worked on our woven pieces while chatting away about the mundane things in everyday life. Some members told me about how they would weave thread, sew, and knit when they were younger – something that came so naturally to them. Others told me how this was a new process for them, but that they had discovered how therapeutic the act of weaving can be. Some even left with extra printed photographs, so they were able to attempt weaving pieces at home with their families. I left the session excited to return to MAC, but also knowing I had given something to the Culture Club members who had shared their stories and time with me.

I wanted to implement all of these thoughts and ideas into my project; this connection to ageing but also how we learn from the past to make something in the future. My Bibi passed away on 16 January 2020. She was not a member of MAC’s Culture Club, but everyone I met there reminded me of a piece of her. I soon found I was associating these ideas to grief and healing. I looked back into retracing the many parts of her life – she would be my first thought when I considered ageing, and she could tell numerous stories to date the 66 years of her life. She remembered everything, but also nothing.

I came across an image of her, aged roughly 15-years-old, which encouraged me to look at the many images I had of her dating back to 1980s: images of her with her children, her grandchildren and later her great grandchildren. These photographs gave me a glimpse into her life, even as a part of them.

Reading in and around the contexts of using craft as a therapeutic notion provided to be very helpful for me to articulate what I wanted this work for the Here & Now project to become. I’ve reaped the many benefits of watching first-hand what weaving can do for participants, who come from different walks of life, with different abilities and across a variety of ages. Everyone takes something from these workshops, but I gain an immense amount of knowledge. For me, weaving became a means to deal with an overload of emotion, a functional role to channel this ultimate wave of grief. There is a power we find in conversation, a heightened experience from my session with MAC’s Culture Club members – which this piece brings together.

An act of performance plays a big part in the making process of this piece. MAC is a tremendously vibrant space, so sitting and making my art in that environment automatically becomes an aspect of its narrative. The support and involvement from the team make this work possible, and my thoughts of delving into something so personal are encouraged.

This piece explores that grief I felt when realising my Bibi is no longer with us, but it also has become a journey for me to tell the stories weaved together within photographs and found ephemera. This piece celebrates the life of Tera Khanom, and the lessons we learn from those before us.

Now more than ever, weaving has been a comfort to turn to. Having many projects, workshops and exhibitions postponed, working toward this piece has acted as an anchor to look forward to. Looking through my Bibi’s old photographs and slicing them up for the weaving project has forced me to confront how I feel – something that talking never could.

Find out more about Nilupa Yasmin and Midlands Arts Centre’s Here and Now project, Making Visible Women’s Work, here.