Jem Olsen, Ballarat, Australia

Australia, embroidery

Dear Textiles, 


Like for so many others, my love for you began with a dear Nana who taught me how to sew. Whenever I think of her, I can’t but help also think of you, so strong is the connection between my early memories of my Nana and of textiles. I am so grateful that she introduced me to her own love of you at such an early age. And now here I am, some 35 years later, a textile artist, creating works that allow me to voice my thoughts and concerns and that through their completion make my heart sing!

The town of Ballarat where I live and the place of our many collaborations together thus far, was established during the gold rush in the mid-1800’s and is the site of the Eureka rebellion and massacre of 1854. The latest piece we’ve created together is inspired from that time – a 3.5m length of calico onto which is stitched the statement of a police officer’s wife who lived on the goldfields, a lady by the name of Catherine McLister, of the sexual harassment she experienced from her husband’s boss – the town’s Police Commissioner. 

When I first read Catherine’s statement and learned more about her story, I had a very emotional response and strong yearning to connect with her through you. Catherine’s words resonated so deeply – both in terms of the growth of the recent #metoo movement and some pretty awful workplace harassment I’d experienced the previous year.

In working together to connect with Catherine and her story despite the 170 odd years between us, our daily stitch sessions together provided an outlet to channel a lot of the pain, grief and loss we’d both experienced, at times right there at the very site of her former residence here in Ballarat! And as we slowly came to the end of our daily stitch sessions, all the while against a backdrop of some very high profile men being finally brought to account for their own sexual misconduct and abuse of women, it was like we were helping bring about a sense of peace; a laying to rest of experiences past, to make way for a more hopeful today and tomorrow. I will be forever grateful for the wonderful collaborations I’ve shared with you; especially this one dear textiles. This one was and will always be, a very special one indeed.

Lots of love,

Jem

P.S. You can find out more about Jem at jemolsentextiles.com and on Instagram at @jemolsen. The photos in this post below are by Louisa West. The photo at the top, a cropped photo in of the work in progress, is by Jem Olsen. To see a video that Jem made about this piece, click over here: https://vimeo.com/418262257.

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