By Amanda Whittington, from Stroud’s arts and culture publication Good On Paper, Issue 92, January 2023 – goodonpaper.info. Pictures by Matt Bigwood
Textile artist Sabine Kaner talks about her new exhibition, Hand-Stitched Stories, at Stroud’s Museum in the Park; her practice, life experiences, and an unusual appreciation for the household moth.
In Hand-Stitched Stories, Sabine Kaner explores the human condition through mixed media textiles. She weaves semi-abstract compositions with layers of texture, colour, stitches and symbols. Her joyous and vibrant compositions can be enjoyed on many levels with deeper meanings beneath the surface.
Drawing on her personal life experiences, Sabine opens dialogue about issues of cultural, social and economic identity, mental health and politics. “As a second-generation immigrant, I very much want to represent people from minority groups. We haven’t had much of a voice in the past, but that’s improving. I think the more we share things, the more people realise that we’re not so separate after all.”
Sabine uses hand-stitching, fabrics, print, collage and more recently, glass, to create pieces you want to touch. “I’m a touchy-feely person,” she says. “I just love textures!” She touches her green cashmere jumper. “I discovered this morning that the jumper I’m wearing under this one has been eaten by a moth. They’re a real problem.” Not what you want as a textile artist? Sabine laughs. “No! But it can be fortuitous for me.”
Indeed, most of the fabric she uses is salvaged from her own clothing or passed down from family and friends. “I have this kind of attachment to the cloth which makes the piece feel more meaningful. I’m also passionate about reinventing fabrics as sadly textile recycling often ends up in the sea.”
Sabine moved to textiles from fine art printmaking in 2000. Starting with old sheets, dishcloths, and “anything she could get her hands on,” she explored psychological issues through needlework. Her fine art background informs her work which pays special attention to the balance of the composition. From sketching initial designs, she works organically, following a dualistic process of memory and materials. The feel of a fabric can spark a memory inspiring her work, and the piece evolves as different fabrics come along.
Every stitch is done by hand. “I’m trying to promote hand-stitch to be used in a fine art way. I’m convinced that everyone can find something to enjoy within textiles if given an opportunity to explore.”
Sabine’s son, Matthew is a successful composer. “Listening to his music is really important for my creative process. I can hear Matthew in his music which really inspires me.” Her artwork for his album, ‘Lines And Music’ is on show.
Family is a big influence in Sabine’s work, from the fabrics she uses, to the stories she tells. ‘When The Boats Come In’ is a powerful piece she created in response to The Windrush Scandal. It recounts her father who travelled on the first Windrush boat from Jamaica to the UK. On first hearing about the scandal, Sabine recalls: “I was so upset, I really was. I just couldn’t stop crying.”
Intricate embroided patterns celebrate colour and diversity with things trapped between; a leaf and butterflies represent the fleeting moments of time. Different coloured hands, symbolising expression and identity, reach up to the majestic looking ship. “I did it as a sort of poster from the 1930s when they said, ‘come to the UK, we need you to work for the NHS,’ that was behind the way I presented it. Welcoming.”
Sabine continues, “And then they got here and there was no colour at all… it was pretty foggy and dark. It was horrible.” Her father, traumatised by the whole experience, was later found wandering the streets of London, having temporarily lost his memory.
There are accompanying narratives, but Sabine admits there is more. Hidden under an oak leaf is a small veil of netting containing left-over scraps of fabric. She says, “I put that there because my dad, like everyone of any colour, was treated like rubbish.”
‘The Cold British Landscape’ is about immigration to the UK. Navy sleeves point in one direction, representing seaport officials. Sabine says: “They’re saying, ‘move on. The countryside is out of your reach, just keep going to your allocated place.’”
Sabine’s mother was German. ‘Blended Cultures’ is about absorbing three cultures and reflects her struggles growing up around identity and belonging. Colours from the Jamaican flag are juxtaposed with shades of autumn. “It represents the divisions between my fragmented identity.”
Through a family tree, Sabine discovered that her great, great grandmother was a Zulu Princess, slave-traded to Jamaica. And her Jamaican aunt told her later in life, that her grandmother was Jewish. Sabine says: “It was a real eye opener and I found that many Jamaicans can trace their roots back to being Jewish.”
Racism was rife in the multicultural area of London where Sabine grew-up. “It was pretty grim,” she recalls. “Today, racism and prejudice can be very subtle. Like feeling slightly outside of things. People not including you in their group — not being seen as ‘one of us.’”
Sabine uses colour intuitively and to convey subliminal messages. ‘Decorating The Cuts’ is about mental health distress and self-harm. The red sleeve emphasises ‘urgency’ and stands out against a dramatic black backdrop. Within the sleeves are cuts, adorned with beautiful colourful hand-stitched patterns. Sabine says: “I was trying to turn it into a positive. Find some joy and hope.”
What is it like to work with such complex, and often unspoken, issues? “It’s quite an emotional journey. There are certain pieces which are quite…” she stops for a moment, then smiles. “I’m a very emotional person; it’s the way I talk, the way I express myself through my art.”
Is there a release? “For me, it’s about representation and inclusivity. This is significant for how we understand ourselves as a multicultural nation and come together. This is what motivates my work.”
Sabine Kaner’s Hand-Stitched Stories is at Museum in the Park, Stroud until 26 February 2023.
Amanda Whittington is a Stroud-based writer with a background in producing and directing documentaries. She loves telling people’s stories and specialises in the arts, environmental and charity sectors. Available for commissions: firstname.lastname@example.org