Striking textile artworks highlight plight of Chernobyl’s Babushkas
A beautiful display of intricately embroidered artworks focusing on the community of Babushkas who live in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone by textile artist and former student and lecturer at The Northern School of Art, Claire A. Baker, is on display at MIMA until 30 January.
Entitled ‘The Red Thread’, Claire said that she hopes the exhibition provides an opportunity for people to learn more about the Babushkas.
“They are a dying community of isolated individuals who have overcome the impossible in order to ‘return home’ to the land they love, disregarding the dangers. Chernobyl, as the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster should never be forgotten and lessons must be learned. This accident affected millions of people worldwide – 1.8 million in Ukraine alone.”
Currently a doctoral researcher at Northumbria University supported by a prestigious Arts and Humanities Research Council Studentship award, Claire graduated (from what was then CCAD) with a 1st class honours degree in Textiles & Surface Design in 2005 as a part-time mature student. She then spent time teaching and lecturing on a range of courses, including the textiles degree she graduated from, at both campuses of The Northern School of Art until leaving to embark on her PhD studies in 2019.
We caught up with Claire to find out more about her exhibition.
- Why is the show called The Red Thread?
The Red Thread is the connector between the practice outcomes – my ‘making’ and the theoretical underpinning of associated concepts and themes, including Gift Theory (Mauss 1925).
The colour RED is also strongly associated with communism and the Soviet Union (since the 1917 Russian revolution), and to which Ukraine ‘belonged’ until 1991. The Chernobyl disaster and its cover up contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union. The red star is symbolic of communism and of socialism, a movement which implemented the collectivist farms that most of the Babushkas worked on.
From the 1920s Soviet policy also attempted to eliminate religious beliefs. Churches were closed, religious icons were destroyed and clergymen executed until at least the mid-1940s. Anti-religious propaganda was intense until the 1980s. The traditional soviet ‘red corner’ is still prominent in rural homes throughout Eastern Europe, domestic religious icons and rushnyky – the embroidered towels or cloths that protect them, still hang in both the occupied and abandoned homes of the Chernobyl exclusion zone where life has stood still since 1986.
- How did the exhibition come about?
I was initially commissioned by the Art in Action programme at MIMA to work with the Cloth Club textile group. Because of the parallels with my work with the aged community in Chernobyl and creative textile practice, I was then asked to be involved with ‘P.S. We Miss You’. This formed part of a national initiative called Celebrating Age, which channelled the contributions of artists, staff and volunteers to cultivate creativity with the town’s older residents and their carers.
I was delighted when Claire Pounder, Learning Curator at MIMA, and Elinor Morgan, Head of Programme/Senior Curator at MIMA, then instigated and facilitated the exhibition to show my ‘Babushka as Icon’ works. I wanted a research exhibition format to gain direct audience feedback and insights on the project to influence its development.
- How do you feel about the show?
I feel very lucky to have my exhibition in this space, it is an amazing opportunity for thousands of people to see my work and learn more about the Babushkas.
- Any advice to future creatives about how to match your success?
I don’t see it as success, I see it as being incredibly lucky to be doing something I love. I have found my passion, something that I can’t imagine ever tiring of. It has taken a long time but I would say keep researching, keep making and you will find yours. Once you do, immerse yourself in it and just strive to do your best.
Claire A. Baker’s The Red Thread is at MIMA in Middlesbrough until January 30 2022. Entry is free.
To find out more about studying on the The Northern School of Art’s BA (Hons) Textiles & Surface Design degree click HERE