20 Neighborhoods: Collaging Memories at Hamdard Center in Edgewater

Women at the Hamdard Center for Health and Human Services came together with Teaching Artist Victoria Martinez to use fiber collage techniques as a means to tell stories about their home countries of India and Pakistan, and their current lives in Chicago. For more photos, check out the Facebook album.

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Teaching Artist Victoria Martinez wanted to design a project that would emphasize the 20 Neighborhoods Project’s emphasis on themes of community and place, while at the same time representing both her own visual history as a practicing artist and the visual aspects of the South Asian culture of the women she would be working with at Hamdard. “Once I came to Hamdard Center,” Victoria said, “I noticed the women were wearing saris, so I thought that it would be a great idea to combine some of their traditions with some of the practices I use in my studio.”

Victoria guided the group of women in creating fiber-collage illustrations based on narratives of community experiences from their home countries and from Chicago, and then sewing the collages onto saris. The final installation involves sewing the ends of each sari together to represent the crossing and union of the women’s paths.

When I first visited Hamdard Center, I saw the women were a lively bunch, chatting amongst themselves in Urdu and 1239771_517488655005074_972703421_nHindi, occasionally punctured by English words. It was evident the group is close friends. Once it was time to start writing their favorite memories, the group became quiet with concentration. On colorful paper, they wrote their fondest memories of India, Pakistan and their current homes in Chicago. Once completed, they shared their stories with the group.

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Many of the recollections expounded on each woman’s bi-cultural experiences. There were stories of their childhoods in their native countries, accounts of their proudest moments in their careers, their families, and most notably, all women spoke of their love of Chicago and the joy that the Hamdard Center brought them in creating a comfortable and creative community.

After this brief storytelling, Victoria laid out vibrant fabric paper so the women could begin crafting collages to complement their story-lines with shapes of flowers, mountains, flags, and more, all artistically arranged around their narratives.

1233576_517488541671752_1689994215_nWhen I asked the women about their pieces, they were happy to share. One woman, Shahzadi Kaleemulla, wrote a three piece memory reflection of her favorite life experiences: one as a college student in a dorm, the second as a teacher, and the third describing her move to be with her family in Chicago. Another woman, Fatma Weldingwala, wrote a narrative of her past and present, which delved into the beautiful scenery of her native country and Chicago, which she symbolically emphasized in her collage piece with a delicate, long-stemmed flower.

1381948_517488785005061_685609250_nSlowly, each woman finished her collage, and Victoria began collecting their work to begin stitching each narrative to an individual sari. Vibrant turquoise-blue, golden-yellow and burgundy-red saris displayed the women’s collages, and strung together, the effect was like an opened, rolled out scroll. Each sari was like a chapter in a book, and once the saris are stitched together, they will illustrate a communal, collective history.

–Helen Celewicz, Gallery Intern