Textile as Communication

Project Summary:

Communication Beyond Words: Textile and Social Change explores the potential of textile as a universal medium of communication capable of addressing systemic global inequalities.

Project Description:

Textile is not often mentioned in communication and media studies. Yet, it was a global medium of communication from prehistoric times up until 19th century industrialization. Today still, individuals gather together to stitch, knit or make quilts that record and enact cultural values and collective ways of living. In many indigenous communities around the world, textile techniques such as embroidery or beading are still practiced as media of communication of similar importance as the verbal word in the West.

First, the project first explores the reasons for such under-appreciation of textile in communication and media studies, including the western-centric bias that sees technologies such as the ones involved in handcrafted textile as lesser than western-based, contemporary ones. To demonstrate this, the project examines the connections between a long and complex tradition of making informational textile to record information in many communities worldwide, and contemporary digital technologies.

Second, the project examines how traditionally textile transmitted and enacted ways of life, most often through means that had the same effect as story-telling, but did not particularly rely on words or symbolic images. Making, embellishing, exchanging and propagating patterned textile have long fostered and transmitted cultural identities and values, and built inter-cultural dialogues. The project examines how contemporary textile practices invent and renew ways of life by focusing on the negotiations between indigenous groups, local artisans, designers, available materials, and socio-economic pressures.

Third, the project argues that while textile crafts might seem quaint today, they provide the critical means to address systemic global inequalities such as cultural appropriation, environmental degradation, wage disparities between designers and artisans, and socio-economic pressures on indigenous and local communities. Through two pilot studies of textile collaboration between indigenous communities, local artisans and Canadian-based artists and designers in Peru and Pakistan, the project showcases how both traditional and new textile practices can produce new intercultural understandings and ways of being together. These in turn challenge existing global inequalities and forge new alliances that transcend language and socio-economic barriers.

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