‘Chiswick Without Borders’ tapestry map goes on show

The art installation designed by Ekta Kaul and made by the people of Chiswick, ‘Chiswick Without Borders’ is now on show in Chiswick Library. The art work was commissioned by the charity Abundance London as a community art project for the launch of the Chiswick Timeline mural under the railway bridge at Turnham Green Terrace. Karen Liebreich of Abundance London has written a guest blog about the project and its significance at this time. There is no better way to demonstrate that we are a truly global community  and that is something we celebrate in Chiswick.

A celebration of our local neighbourhood of Chiswick and its proud international character

Ekta Kaul is an award winning textile artist and designer, who creates embroidered maps based on narratives. Her textiles, displayed at last year’s Artists at Home in Chiswick, where she lived for eight years, embody exquisite hand craftsmanship, simplicity and timeless design. This immediately struck a chord with the Chiswick Timeline team, and we invited Ekta to create a map celebrating Chiswick and its international character. We had in mind one of those old medieval maps, that showed Jerusalem at the centre of the world, but this one showing Chiswick in that position, to be launched as a participatory art project at the mural’s launch in January 2018.

Ekta was immediately interested and came up with the idea of an art project that invited Chiswick residents to stitch their connections to the world with a symbolic migratory bird – a swallow and its flight, linking the map of Chiswick to places around the world. She wanted to celebrate these invisible connections and make them visible using collaborative stitching. She tried out various map combinations and finally settled for a map based on one of the 19th century Ordinance Survey maps used on the mural, alongside a contemporary map of the world. She then printed both maps onto fabric in monochrome. The plan was that every participant would sew one swallow to their Chiswick home, and the other to a place where their family comes from, or where their loved ones are or simply a place which is dear to their heart. The swallow pairs would then be linked by a silken thread.

Images above: Ekta Kaul putting a few last minute touches; Embroiderers holding up the finished work ready for installation; map showing where Chiswick residents have come from

We swiftly realized that the sewing itself could not be done on the launch day. At the event, the swallows would be pinned, and linked by a temporary woollen thread. Afterwards, a team would sew the swallows on, and link them with threads in shades of red and gold over the maps of Chiswick and the world.

Ekta is a highly experienced artist and creates works that blend her Indian heritage and a western approach that is built on the foundation of her design education in India and the UK. She trained at India’s premier design school the National Institute of Design, founded on Charles and Ray Eames manifesto and Bauhaus principles. She then won the Charles Wallace and British Council scholarships to pursue MA Textiles in the UK. Her work is seen at some of the most respected galleries and stores in the UK and abroad including Liberty’s, Designers Guild, and the Conran Shop Tokyo amongst others. She has received awards from the Crafts Council and the Arts Council, England & most recently was the finalist in Jerwood Makers Open 2019.

Images above: stages of production captured by Jon Perry

The project opened with a tremendous response from the Chiswick community. Within the two hours of the launch, over 600 swallows were pinned to the maps. By the end of the day the cloth was a mass of woollen threads, the maps hidden below their web of criss-crossing lines. Gradually over the following weeks a dedicated team of volunteers unpicked the threads and put the world back into order.

Chiswick folk come from everywhere, from Argentina and Australia to the Ukraine and Zambia. Our North Americans mostly clung around the coasts; we had only eight South Americans. There were no North Africans at all, a remarkable omission, but a respectable showing from the centre and south. Every corner of Europe was full of Chiswickians, as was India. The Middle East was sparse and the vast expanse of Russia contained only two lonely swallows (one of whom – at the far eastern coast near the three Japanese swallows – belonged to Svetlana Kuznetsova whose glorious artworks of Chiswick landmarks provided the ceramic centre points of the accompanying Chiswick in Ceramic exhibition). Surprisingly all the Australians were congregated on the eastern coasts. There were outliers in Trinidad, Iceland and Malaysia.


Images above: Sarah Cruz and Karen Liebreich of Abundance London, with artist Ekta Kaul centre

The team worked heroically, using a base at the London Auctions on the High Road. It is invidious to name particular volunteers, but Susan Irani, Jaclyn Horton and Jackie Rayer put in hundreds of hours. Ekta hand embroidered the names of all volunteers who helped in the stitching namely Lorna Branczik, Trisha Cochrane, Alice D.Cooper, Sarah Cruz, Katie Dean, Ula Dziobek, Jennie Figaro, Anneli Friedhoff, Jaclyn Horton, Susan Irani, Tracy Kynoch, Patricia Leigh, Karen Liebreich, Jackie Rayer, Jill Sinclair.

After several months of discussion it was agreed that the tapestry would be installed permanently at the Chiswick Library in Dukes Avenue. The agreement came only just in time, as Ekta was approached by a major national museum who wished to acquire the piece. But she refused – the piece belongs to Chiswick and there it will stay. The Timeline team thanks Ekta for her generosity and inspiration.

In these current times of insular voices and inward-looking gazes this project invites everyone to celebrate our openness and our connections through the convivial act of stitch. A pride in the local within the international seems something worth celebrating in March 2019.