“My identity and my coming to be in this place informs my curating and informs my making. I think it’s very much autoethnographic – basically you place yourself first in anything that you do. Not in a narcissistic way, but instead of saying “Oh, it’s those people over there,” you’re thinking, “What’s my relation to that?”
Artist-curator Yas Lime sits across the table at Eastside Projects, the sounds of a video installation from the gallery’s current exhibition LOOP echoing behind them. Lime is the first in a cohort of eight local artists carrying out residencies at The Hive, a community hub based in Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter. Supported by the Ruskin Mill Land Trust, the residency invites creative practitioners to develop new work in response to the space and its archives, activities, community, and local environment.
“I wanted to create something that was experimental,” explains Lime. “I’m learning how to straw weave and plait wheat. I thought this was a real chance for me to bring this skill to people who use The Hive, but also experiment and practice my wheat and straw weaving. It’s an endangered craft in the UK. I’ve become a member of The Guild of Straw Craftsmen which is an interesting organisation to be a part of. It’s full of an older demographic of people, people who are really committed to making sure that the craft of straw is kept alive basically and so they really want to pass on those skills to the next generation.
I was thinking about craft practice through my different heritages. I’m Turkish Cypriot, Yemeni, Pakistani and Welsh. Pakistan makes these woven trays that you dry things on, and Turkish Cypriot people do the same, they’re called “sestas” or “paners”. You can get them really big or really small and you dry mint you dry molohiya – which is actually jute – you can put dough on there as well or you can flip them around, use them as a seat, use them as a footstool, whatever you want. So they are very useful but beautiful objects. You dye the straw, you dye the wheat pencils and you create these spiral shapes.
I’d grown up with those in my house and that was kind of where that research started, I didn’t even know they were made out of straw. Then I looked into Yemeni culture and in Yemen they also weave. The thing I was drawn to were these huge hats, almost like witch’s hats, and they literally go up three feet in the sky. The women farmers of Yemen, they wear burkas and then they’ll wear these big straw hats.
The whole point of me researching these crafts is that it’s something that I’m very removed from because of British colonial involvement in the countries that my grandparents or great-grandparents are from. It means that I’m here because of migration and because of colonialism. And those countries are still being affected; I can’t move back to Yemen at the moment, it’s war torn. My family history and my existence today, sitting here right now, is because of those violent histories, the extraction of wealth, the extraction of resources, the extraction of people and… how do I deal with that?
Also thinking about the craft of straw working in the UK, I was born on this land and therefore that craft and that tradition is in me as well. You know the black felt Welsh hats, again it’s this idea of crafting and making something that was decorative and useful. It was recorded a lot that women wore these hats. Women’s dress and women’s work, and the idea of craft versus art, you know, what’s an “art” hat and what’s a “normal” hat and what’s an artistic tray and what’s a non-artistic tray.”
“At the moment we have almost one-hundred members, mostly West Midlands-based South Asian artists but also starting to kind of branch out to London and other cities. It started with socials, coffees, and dinners and things like that and it kind of grew from there. I actually curated an exhibition, the first summer show that we did at Ward End library. I’m really interested in spaces like that, that are within the public realm. It means that anyone going into the library will just see the artwork, you don’t necessarily have to go to a gallery or go to somewhere that is like this,” they say, gesturing around at the Eastside Projects gallery, “that can be a bit intimidating I guess, or out of the way. You go to a library to go and do your benefit form, or to go and pick up a book for your child, or to learn a language or to use the internet.”
The first artist in the cohort to take up the residency, Lime also takes inspiration from the time of year.
“Not only is it Halloween, it’s also the Pagan Samhain festival, theres also Divali, there’s also the Prophet’s Birthday which is a Muslim festival, and Harvest, which is a Christian festival as well. It’s all about coming into winter. I wanted to make these wheat sculptures to hang in the windows, and basically just create something with a material people haven’t used before, and a sculpture, like corn dollies. Traditional corn dollies are just not made any more. They were made from the last sheath of wheat cut from the field. It was very bad luck for a farmer to cut the last sheath so what they’d do is all the farmers would kind of get in a horseshoe shape and they’d throw their scythes into the cornfield, so you wouldn’t know who’s scythe cut the last sheath, so you kind of trick the wheat gods, trick mother earth, because you didn’t want to hurt the wheat. So I quite like that tradition. It’s quite interesting that it was kind of Pagan or prechristian ideas and then they’ve sort of been buried. People would still make wheat but they’d use it as kind of harvest decorations and think about this one God. Then slowly when christianity wasn’t so forced onto the population, and these sorts of traditions are coming back.”
Eager to share their wheat weaving knowledge, Lime is hosting workshops as part of the residency to pass on the skill to others.
“We’ve had one workshop so far. It was with the Seven Up group. It was only three participants and their carers and support workers and it was really lovely. We just used the material in an experimental way. I didn’t have any fixed outcome of how it’s going to look or feel, I really am experimenting myself.
Within the workshop itself we had the wheat and beads that I’d prepared, paint, ink, ribbons, cotton, string, jute…I think that’s it? We’re gonna do a workshop on the 25th October that’s going to be open to all so I think it’s going to be a bit more hands-off from me.
True to the experimental nature of the project, Lime is open minded about the final piece.
“We’re making some sort of communal sculpture, I think it’ll probably be some sort of wire or wicker loops making some sort of chandelier for all of the works that people have made to hang on. I think that’ll be pretty special, and then having some sort of light in the middle of that, maybe in the big window at The Hive, or hanging in the cafe or somewhere in the lounge. I think that would be really beautiful. So far it’s been really special, even just making. It was like an hour and a half workshop, it was just like, “wow, people really wanna use their hands. They want to get messy and be creative!”
To try your hand at working with wheat, join Yas Lime at The Hive on Monday 25th October, 11am to 1pm – register for free here to claim your spot.
Yas Lime’s exhibition Woven Tongue opens Friday 5th November at Eastside Projects, and they’re hosting an online discussion on Ancestry and Materiality with Nyugen Smith and Tanoa Sasraku on 26th November.