Kiri Morcombe – WeAve
I first stumbled across WeAve a few years ago when Liam Benson was running a beading workshop. The instant I walked into the room I felt welcomed and though the skill level of many of the group were well above my own, I never for a moment felt intimidated. WeAve is an initiative of Parramatta Artist Studios, it is a group of women who get together monthly to share textile skills and produce stunning works of art but the real beauty is what is woven into the group, a strong sense of inclusion, openness and support. Textile skills are not the only things shared; language, cultural traditions and mutual respect make up the strong fabric that is WeAve. I chatted with group co-ordinator and the thread that holds everything together, Kiri Morcombe to find out more about WeAve.
The Westies: Can you give me some background on how and why WeAve started?
Kiri: WeAve Parramatta began as a workshop series designed as public programming for an exhibition I co -curated and project managed for the Parramatta Artists Studios. The Project was designed to engage Pacific and Maori communities in the Parramatta area. The project became called ParraMATariki, looking at mat making in the communities, and the workshops were run to ask the communities to come and share their knowledge with us regarding techniques and uses in contemporary Australia. Maureen Lander (NZ Maori) and Keen Ruki (Aust Maori) were the two artists who made work together and separately for the exhibition, as did the communities who engaged with us. After the exhibition ended, the communities approached me and asked that the workshops keep going and WeAve was born.
The premise is two fold – often a contemporary artist with a textile practice (informed by traditional techniques) shares a technique with the group in a workshop. Other times, a member of the group shares a skill/technique and workshop with us. Materials used back home are not always readily available, so we work together to find others.
The Westies: Who can attend a workshop and do they need to have any particular skills?
Kiri: Anyone can attend a workshop. We welcome all. All we ask is for an open heart, a woven/textile treasure from their cupboard (and its story) a smile and a plate of food to share for lunch.
The Westies: Why weaving and has it evolved into sharing other skills and if so which ones?
Kiri: The ParraMATariki project acknowledged the art of weaving (mats are treasures, traded in place of money in some cases) and the techniques are with only a few weavers in Sydney.
The group has expanded to be inclusive and representative of all communities in Parramatta, and with that, comes more weaving and textile techniques. We learn so many skills and how to make things, these are the by-product to connections made in the group, based on mutual interest, leading to tolerance, acceptance and respect.
The Westies: WeAve is has just entered it’s seventh year, why do you think the workshops have been so successful?
Kiri: They bring people together who want to make without barrier, rules or borders.
The workshops are free (except of course for a plate of food), they have good energy, they bring a sense of support and celebration, they keep culture alive. There is no obligation, other than to be present. Many of the members of the group have gone on to develop their own practices and become practising artists. This is empowering and powerful.
The Westies: Have many particpants made the transition to working as artists?
Kiri: YES! Maureen Unasa, Angela Paikea, Seini Huakau, Jackie Wallace, Tacheen Stuart, Fazana Hekmat, Hilin Kazemi, Mere Makene are all artists making right now, and have been encouraged/supported through WeAve.
Many others are artists who have delivered workshops for WeAVe, but are selling/practicing, Erna Lilje, Kerrie Kenton, Nicole Barakat, Keen Ruki etc etc…
The Westies: What are some of the opportunities that participants have been given as a part of WeAve?
Kiri: Making and exhibiting with contemporary artists, such as Erna Lilje (for Parramatta Lanes, Nicole Barakat (Parramatta Lanes, Powerhouse Museum), Sydney Festival, Lanes with Maureen Unasa, 1 million Stars to end violence project with Mary Ann Talia Pau, Object Gallery, …the list goes on!
The Westies: Can you share a story (or two) of the best things you have witnessed in this group over the years?
Kiri: I am constantly in awe of these women, and their fierce support of WeAVe and me. Maureen Unasa contacted me wanting to connect with her heritage, she is Samoan, has lived in NZ and Aust for a majority of her life. She has 5 Children. And she drops everything to work with WeAve. She has recently designed a range of wearable art pieces for Pacific Runway and started a social enterprise for her home village in Samoa creating sustainable woven jewellery for sale in Aust. Overtime I open Facebook, she is doing more and more and more for her community as an artist. She is phenomenal. 4 – 5 years ago, she didn’t know how to weave.
When I was researching the initial project I attended a festival in Merrylands for Maoris, in celebration of Waitangi Day. It was raining heavily, I saw a man eating a hot dog – drenched. I held my umbrella over him (it was big enough for two) while he ate and we chatted about why I was there. It turns out that his daughter was a weaver living in NZ, and weaving daily. Bernie (the drenched hot dog eater) supported every step of this project, and to this day, we are still like family. I have been gifted some pounamu (Greenstone) from his family, especially carved for preparing flax for weaving. It made me cry the day I was given it, and every time I tell the story. Greenstone is a precious gem to Maoris – it was a very special acknowledgement.
There are so many more… I should write a book.
The Westies: What’s you favourite thing about WeAve?
Kiri: The WeAve family, learning the never-ending textile techniques and learning by osmosis.
Follow WeAve on Facebook to find out when their next workshop is, link here.
Interview: Katrina James
Photos: Katrina James