“Homage to the Women of Qeshm Island” mask - ROM2021_18039_21


“Homage to the Women of Qeshm Island” mask

Maker: Bita Ghezelayagh
Medium:Handwoven wool, hand-braided silk, and mother-of-pearl
Geography: Designed and made in the UK, materials from Iran
Date: 2020
16.4 × 30 cm, tassel length 45, strap length 40
Object number: 2021.54.2
Credit Line: Museum purchase
On view
Gallery Location:Thorsell Spirit House

By reclaiming discarded Iranian textiles and embellishing them with mother-of-pearl discs for her mask, London-based British-Iranian textile artist Bita Ghezelayagh (b.1966) gives value to handcrafted textiles that are threatened by mass production and modern tastes. The crown of the mask is made from a hand-woven woollen band or belt that is embroidered on the back. The nose and mouth cover are made from a fragment of a Persian wool carpet which is attached to the crown with hand-plaited trim and embellished with mother-of-pearl discs. The central element is connected to the crown at the bridge of the nose with a white stone and the ties are made of silk. Ghezelayagh's masks and artistic practice speak to the importance of recycling, upcycling, and re-use to preserve craft traditions and the planet within the global cultural contexts of hyper-capitalism and consumption.

Inspired by COVID-19 masks, Ghezelayagh says: "The idea of making face coverings with my textiles first came to me after almost a year of living through the pandemic. I finally realised the importance of this tiny additional element to our everyday life. For this face covering project, I went back to my extended archive of materials and found a new way to re-use and combine the small bits of beautiful old textiles and nomadic braids and beads to create some original designs inspired, as ever, by my Iranian roots.

Although I have worked mainly in felt, over the years I discovered all sorts of handwoven textiles which are endangered by mass production and modern taste, and I have been inspired to turn them into a canvas reflecting my own experiences. I am interested in giving back value to forgotten materials and refreshing the old. I was among the earliest Iranian artists to recycle threadbare, handwoven textiles and fragments of old carpets, and after collecting them, the art of restoring, darning, mending, and reshaping began."

Bita's mask veil is inspired by the face coverings worn by the ladies of the island of Qeshm (pronounced Gheshm) in the Strait of Hormuz, Persian Gulf, Iran. Ghezelayagh’s work is an homage to these women who, despite being talented embroiderers and extremely hard working, live under poor conditions. Her work also references the elaborate face-veils embellished with coins, precious beads, and embroidery worn by the Bedouin women of the Negev desert (see for example, Shelagh Weir, Palestinian Costume, 1989, pp.190-91). Bita explains, "During the UK’s national lockdown, I had limited resources of materials – only a few rolls of handmade tribal braids from different regions of Iran and some bits of threadbare woollen carpet (used for the mouth cover). The most important elements of my design were the coin pendants that sparkle on the face and represent prosperity and fortune. I didn’t have any in my limited supplies so I had to improvise by substituting them with mother-of-pearl discs, which provided the shine and are a reminder of the water, sea, fishing, and main elements of nature surrounding these women’s lives." [Personal communication with the artist, 22/02/21].

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