Do you know the Kayan people? They are the Burmese ethnic group most famously known for their women's metal neck braces. There are Kayan refugees in Nelson, and recently they made our national magazine, The Listener, because the women decided to put the neck braces back on, because these braces are a symbol of who they are.
These women in Nelson also resumed their back-strap weaving, and The Suter is going to sell their textiles. As well, I've been approached by a few people in the arts/textile sphere to see what we can do to help them.
My first reaction was: just when I thought I'd weave lots of things with my sewing threads and target a niche market, I've got a hell of a formidable group of "competitors". They have the tradition, their stories, and the visual impact of the humble back-strap weaving, and possibly a lower price range. And though my stuff will be different from theirs, for people who see the textiles side by side in shops in galleries, well, they are alternatives, aren't they?
But my more immediate worry is this, (and this is where I feel even smaller-minded,) I feel very uncomfortable speaking face to face with heavily tattooed or pierced people; how am I going to react when I see women with neck-braces? My friend Rosie lives near one of the families and she went around to their house with Christmas mince pie last year. Rosie said when they don't have the braces on, their necks look normal, and she told me to have a good look at the photos, because the braces start at the shoulders and go straight up to their jaws. Still, I can't help myself feeling queasy anticipating meeting the women.
I'm feeling a bit discouraged in a vague way this morning. Meg 0, Weaving Goddess 1.
Still, Changing Threads exhibition opening this afternoon at 4, Clare Plug workshop tomorrow, Wellington later in the month and Napier design symposium in May. Ben got me a whole gob of nice-smelling moisturizers and hand creams as early birthday presents yesterday, and we live in Nelson. I have an easy life.
And, imagine the benefits I will get from meeting and working with the Kayan weavers. I must stay open to life's opportunities.