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France - Culture - art

Visiting artists weave a cross-cultural tapestry in Paris

Artist Valerie Kirk weaves at her studio at the Cité internationale des Arts in Paris.
Artist Valerie Kirk weaves at her studio at the Cité internationale des Arts in Paris. RFI

Paris’ Cité internationale des arts hosts more than 300 artists and scholars. The studios are regularly open to the public, providing insight into works in progress. One of them is Weaving & Living, a joint project from two tapestry artists, Scottish-born Valerie Kirk and Mayumi Inoue of Japan.

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Kirk and Inoue met during their residencies at the Cité Internationale des arts in Paris. One weaves with traditional wool and cotton, the other uses hair from cancer survivors and paper from music scores.

With light filling the corner studio, the pair put the finishing touches on their exhibition, Weaving & Living - just one example of the many surprising cross-cultural encounters at this hive of activity.

Despite very different backgrounds and approaches to their craft, there is a clear common ground in how they use it to express their interpretations of the world around them. 

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Mayumi Inoue has strung up her panels from the ceiling in front of the large windows, allowing light to pour through the threads of cotton, which are lined with paper manuscripts covered in Japanese characters and music notes. It's her nod to the value of memory and history.

Nearby, Valerie Kirk has hung small pieces using a more traditional weaving style with wool and cotton threads.

They reflect her recent travels to Scotland, the challenges faced by her native land in the uncertain times of Brexit, the impact of mass migration in Europe and the rise of grass roots protests in Paris.

The threads are of darker hues, blues, browns, blacks, with a white Saint Andrew’s Cross in reference to the Scottish flag.

The studio Valerie has been staying in is named after Moya Dyring, an Australian artist who once lived in Paris on the Ile Saint Louis. After her death in 1967, her friends and family purchased a studio in her memory at the Cité for the continued support of visiting artists.

The two-month residency is made available to artists through a programme run by the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney.

Kirk moved to Australia in her twenties to teach weaving. She continued over the years to travel between the two countries and her works often contain references to her two homes, and the natural landscapes of each.

Inoue, from Fukuoka, studied art and design at Joshibi University in Tokyo. In 2017, she won the Joshibi Paris Prize, which lead to a year-long residency at the Cité Internationale des arts.

Over the last year, Inoue has also worked on another project called Thread of Life, based on an idea which came to her after interviewing women undergoing cancer treatment for a television programme.

By weaving the hair of people lost during anti-cancer treatment into small delicate pieces, she has found a way to celebrate life and transform a difficult period into something positive.

The tiny framed pieces of woven human hair on display are gathered from three cancer patients Inoue met in France. A challenging project, she says, because of taboo which still surrounds the subject.

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