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A Wandering Genealogy
Curated by Claudia DeMonte & Cecilia Mandrile
‘The World is a Handkerchief’ is a travelling exhibition rooted in the Spanish saying ‘el mundo es un pañuelo’, which translates into English as ‘this is such a small world’. The project traces serendipitous encounters, moments of discovering personal connections in distant places or unexpected contexts. This began with the encounter between Claudia DeMonte and Cecilia Mandrile as mentor and student respectively at the University of Maryland, the United States, 25 years ago, and has expanded throughout an international collaborative network of mentors, students and peers. To celebrate this sustained creative dialogue, in 2018 they decided to develop a portable exhibition of 50 handkerchiefs that explores the meaning of belonging and interconnectedness so tangibly brought about by this Spanish expression.
To reconstruct this alternative family composed of artists and collectives from different latitudes and generations over the last two decades, Claudia and Cecilia printed an edition of 25 handkerchiefs each, which they sent out to invited artists along with a blank handkerchief to be intervened upon with their own reflections on home and belonging. From this exchange emerged this ‘wandering genealogy’—a tribute to the strong threads that have woven a shared territory for roving artists and educators.
Handkerchiefs have accompanied people in celebrations and farewells in many cultures for centuries, offered bodily protection and coverage, and sustained expressions of political tenets and spiritual beliefs. In this project, handkerchiefs become vessels of memories and itinerant narratives; containers of emotions; translators of wounds, signals of ideological resistance. Each piece epitomises a soft space that holds disappearing recollections of homeland as well as reflections on displacement and identity that can be carried as a tangible memento. In times when touch appears as a dangerous sense, every single printed handkerchief means a meaningful testament of the continuous nurturing mentorship among artists and educators, reminding us that the soft touch remains both an intimate and universal need of communication.
Driven by the collaborative nature of DeMonte and Mandrile’s practice, and based on extensive research on the history of the printed handkerchief tradition, print-based workshops have been developed alongside the core exhibition. The open and ongoing compelling collection is being created by artists, students and alumni of creative communities led by members of this ‘family tree’. This exhibition includes works made at Zona Imaginaria Graphic Studios (Buenos Aires, Argentina) and the MA Multidisciplinary Printmaking Programme and The Centre for Fine Print Research, UWE (Bristol, UK). The latest portfolio developed in collaboration with the Centre for Fine Print Research family means a turning point of reflection, rethinking the notion of Home after lockdown.
The growing handkerchief collection that has emerged from this project has been launched at the London Print Studio Gallery in May 2019 and it was recently exhibited at the Blackburn 20|20 Gallery, Elizabeth foundation for the Arts in New York during November 2020. A limited edition catalogue, published by Impact Press, Bristol, UK includes an essay by Gill Saunders, Senior Curator of Prints, Victoria & Albert Museum, London. In addition, and supported by an itinerant practice, this project is being documented and shared on Instagram @theworldisahandkerchief.