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La Vie en Soie - 15th of May 2016  Bonnieux 

My home in Provence has provided me with new source of inspiration.

The presence of silk in Southern France has been evident to me from the time of my early visits to Provence. Looking for a possible property to purchase, I came across photos of ancient stone houses and the term "ancient menagerie." I was more interested in a village house than a large estate, as the memories of silk-rearing were present in these medieval houses. Steep stairs usually led to the attic where silk worms lived in the past. Holes in the stone and plaster walls indicated that large wooden frames, like trays, once filled the space.

From the first-hand stories of my older neighbours I learned that they, as children, were responsible for bringing a constant supply of fresh mulberry leaves. Most households had numerous mulberry trees planted within easy reach. When pruned in the fall these large trees produced large, thick foliage. The village people had a steady leaf supply thanks to hundreds of such trees planted along the roadsides since the late 1700s.

I find it very moving to observe each fall how these ancient contorted and grotesque-looking trees are still being neatly pruned and their sap-bleeding wounds treated with anti-fungal blue ink. This practice must be a deeply etched memory and an obligation of subsequent generations to look after the trees that helped their families bring in much needed income when other crops failed.

In my frequent travels to the Orient—India, Pakistan, Burma, Thailand, and China—the term “Silk Road” was often used to describe the ways and passages through which silk travelled to reach weavers in Europe. At some point, however, Europe became self-sufficient in silk production. Hundreds of small roads led from picturesque villages in Provence to larger centres where the silk threads would be reeled, spun, and woven. These were The Silk Roads of Provence. Occasionally this supply would be interrupted by a devastating virus called pembrine, which attacked the silk worms.

The thought of the silky, smooth threads being made here, in this land of stone and harsh winters and blazing sun in the summer—where rough hemp was the fibre used for clothing—intrigued me. Lyon and Paris featured fancy silk clothing derived from cocoons raised and gently picked and deflossed by women and children from Gordes, Rousillion, Cerestre, and Bonnieux. I also find silk traces while visiting the markets and vide grenier in the area, where I can find simple implements, reeling spools, and skeins of yellowish hand-spun silk offered for sale.

I felt compelled to re-tell the story of silk in Provence. I needed to raise my own silk worms, feed them with the leaves of these ancient mulberry trees, and keep them warm in the attic of my medieval house to truly start a process of allowing my imagination to soar: addressing such profound issues as the mystery of life and the symbolism of the life cycle of silk moths, with its exquisite beauty and tragic ending.

Concurrent with my preoccupation with these questions I have been restoring an ancient cave as my future atelier and a space where my creative ideas can flourish and dwell. The cave is carved out of the limestone on which Bonnieux was built. There are many similar troglodytic caverns in the village, but mine is special. It is deep and high, its height increased by a series of criss-crossing arches to form a majestic cathedral-like ceiling. Thousands of years ago these caves served as habitats for the local population; subsequently, Romans added their characteristic vaulted ceilings and stone arches.

Caverns or grottos have always been surrounded with mysteries. Not only were they secluded havens where hermits meditated; they were also thought to be places where energy concentrated and spiritual places where miracles happened (for example, Lourdes). Even celestial grottos were believed to exist where immortals met after death.


How appropriate that my project with the theme of the mystery of life lives in such a space. With these themes in mind, I have created a series of vignettes:


  1. Large cocoons, where dried plant material is surrounded by a transparent membrane: Here the centre of the cocoon is visible as it shimmers.

  2. Tree of life and death: Silk worms were allowed to inhabit this entanglement, where they formed cocoons, emerged as moths, mated and laid eggs, and died shortly afterward. This complete lifecycle is presented here on a background of entangled forms to resemble an unsettling infernolike situation.

  3. Portraits of mulberries: The ancient mulberries growing on the plateau of Luberon, in my eyes, acquired human-like qualities requiring to be acknowledged individually as characters in a play. War effort: During WWII silk was needed for making parachutes, and women worked in the spinning and weaving mills. The end of WWII brought an end to silk production in the Luberon. This installation symbolically shows another type of transformation—from peace to war and from silk moth to military aircraft.

  4. Delicate matters: The white gloves symbolize dainty female hands holding a single silk cocoon.

  5. My mother's memories of other times where silk was synonymous with femininity and glamour.

  6. Mulberry language: It is known that a young mulberry tree, when under stress, produces leaves of varying shapes. This phenomenon fascinated me and compelled me to assign a letter of the alphabet to these different leaves; thus, producing a mulberry language. It is contrasted with an old letter from a local notary: mulberry language versus legal.






Exhibition catalogue

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