Raisa Kabir

Raisa Kabir is an interdisciplinary artist and weaver based in London. Kabir utilises woven text/textiles, sound, video and performance in her work to materialise concepts concerning the cultural politics of cloth, labour and embodied geographies. Her (un)weaving performances comment on power, production, disability and the queer brown body as a living archive of collective trauma. 

“A salve, a desire, a tonic”

Weaving, making

March 2020, I found myself in the middle of a pandemic, one tiny suitcase of a change of clothes and staying in a house with my partner’s family.

I was without tools and separated from my studio and home, no yarn, no equipment, no looms. The sheer anxiety we were all holding at the time, with projects on hold, watching as artists, our income dissolve in front of our eyes; and a deep expanse of uncertainty stretching in front of us, a global crisis, and the only way to help was being told to stay at home, it felt like inaction.

We all fervently sewed facemasks and scrubs to feel useful. I even fashioned myself some homemade slippers. The need to find calm in craft work felt like an urgency. A salve, a desire, a tonic.

My weaving practice is based on building looms out of found objects, recycled materials, making and weaving out of anything.

Constructing out of nothing. Here I suddenly found myself at the very basics. Not for a planned workshop with already sources materials, or as a teaching tool, or even as part of a project.

Finding a way to weave without tools became fixation, even just to carve a sense of control around my surroundings and this inexplicable loss of physicality to the day. To craft, to make, to use one’s hands, to soothe the nervous system. The day punctuating by cooking and the one sanctioned walk a day.

Time was spent foraging for fallen branches of dry wood that could be strong enough to be used as loom bars. Searching skips, and parks, and garden waste piles. In the beginning there was no warp yarn, only ancient garden jute string found in the shed. I warped a basic loom and wove in the garden a tiny back strap loom, sewing a backstrap band and tying myself to the trees or corners of the rooms I had found myself staying in. Scrap wool in odd colours from my partner’s mum’s left over wool stash became the weft, and a ruler in place of a weaving sword/shed stick. I hand knotted the heddles and began to weave daily.

The repetitive actions, back and forth. Weaving a rudimentary tapestry. I hold that funny little weaving, nothing like anything I have ever woven, so dear. So emblematic of time in emotional turmoil and record of my time spent trying to distract myself from the high anxiety and strange dislocation of time.

As well as the loss of physical contact with friends, family, and ultimately not being surrounded by any of my familiar things, staying as a guest in my partner’s family home, the displacement had a heavy effect.

Weaving as a practice this way became my portal perhaps back into my own world, a connection to others, the tensioned warp threads, magically being manipulated the way weaving has been done for centuries.

This sharing of knowledge of how to create out of what we have around us, is all that we need to equip ourselves with.

I started carving and whittling longer pieces of wood, smoothing the surface of the bark till it was slippery bone. I ordered yarn, linen and the brightest coloured wools I could find, and began weaving larger pieces on second and third, fourth looms. A kind of comfort that others had found in stockpiled loo roll, in my state of bereftness, cut off from access my studio or home, I instead stockpiled woollen rug yarn. The walls and cones of piles of bright colours, orange, turquoise, lime, lilac, Prussian blue. It cushioned me from the grief I was encountering around me, friends and family, the collective losses, and also the trauma of not being able to even have access to my own clothes or tools. I carved my own tools, and before I ordered shuttles, I walked miles to Finsbury park totalling 2hours there and back, to pick up weaving shuttles to use.

And before then, I cut them out of cardboard, wrapping yarn around my homemade makeshift shuttles.

Anything can be a shuttle, a pencil, and piece of bamboo, a stick, a cut out piece of cardboard. It’s only a vessel for yarn.

Anything can be a loom, if you have the threads to tension and fixed to a point, your body, my body, a tree, a hook, a door handle, the space between a chair. Your hands can pick out the weaving sheds, or as I did, you can tie a spare stick to be used as a heddle. I would weave with my three rulers, and whittled shed stick, as pick up sticks and marvel at the contraption I had a fashioned and cobbled together. Somehow amazed it managed to weave at all, managing to lift and drop threads. Slow repetitive work, endurance like. Concentrating on each line of wool. Each pick of colour. The gradual effort to build a piece of cloth. Each line felt like an achievement. Something miraculous yet mundane.

Towards the end of the long three months, before I was able to move nearer to my studio, I developed a rigid heddle loom that could be used for others to access weaving with less tools, to share innovative low tech ways to craft cloth. Breaking down the barriers to a craft that seems shrouded in expensive equipment and tools. We have all we need at our disposal. This sharing of knowledge, of how to create out of what we have around us, is all that we need to equip ourselves with.

Making During A Pandemic

Project Homepage

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Read more about our exhibition ‘Weave It!’ featuring Raisa Kabir.

First step: Weaving

Make a loom from cereal box cardboard with Rezia Wahid, MBE.