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Asia Mobilities Women

Weave

A Contemplative Measure of the Gains and Losses of our Global Times

Lee Lee oil painting of Burmese cotton weaver
Detail of a cotton weaver on Inle Lake in Burma

“Weave” is a collection of paintings reflecting the social, political and emotional manifestations of the ancient art of weaving.

These figurative paintings are the result of travels through China, Myanmar and South Carolina. Capturing weavers in their daily rituals, the paintings blend woman with machine in a celebration of the ancient art and a contemplative measure of the gains and losses of our global times.

The loud clang of industrial mass production is frequent in China these days. Well-known for its sweat shop style of labor, it’s an ominous forecast for the future.

Two years ago I was there and photographed a silk mill outside of Shanghai. Under fluorescent lights, the colors of steel and cement are cold, edges sharp. The women working the mill have their backs turned or their faces obscured. The fast and chaotic movement of the mass production is echoed through high energy brushstrokes.

In contrast, ancient forms of hand weaving are still practiced in places like Burma (Myanmar), where I recently spent time with a family of weavers. The experience left me with contradictions that I explored through paintings.

Their shop was the first floor of their home, stilted over Inle lake. The organic qualities of their massive hand hewn looms fill the room with the soft atmosphere of wood and cotton. They live under one of the most oppressive regimes today, which has resulted in a boycott of Myanmar by most countries. I wanted to reflect this existence of being completely cut off from the modern world by embedding the figures deep within the architecture of their looms. They are as visually separate from us, as they are culturally.

Closer to home, I explored the cotton mill in Anderson, South Carolina where my great grandmother was a spinner for most of her life. She took me there before she died, and I recorded the burnt out and collapsed structures as a perfect reflection of how manufacturing has continued to leave our borders over the years. The elegant brick structures have been abandoned for cheap labor and lower environmental standards found elsewhere in the world.

Offering an intimate portrayal of life in a “mill village”, I appropriated excerpts from my grandmother’s letters into burnt drawings of the mill. They reflect the difficulties of life during the industrial era and remind us that we are not so different from people elsewhere.

Categories
Asia Women

Inle Lake Cottonweavers

Their shop was the first floor of their home, stilted over Inle lake in Burma. The organic qualities of their massive hand hewn looms fill the room with the soft atmosphere of wood and cotton. They live under one of the most oppressive regimes today, which has resulted in a boycott of Myanmar by most countries. I wanted to reflect this existence of being completely cut off from the modern world by embedding the figures deep within the architecture of their looms. They are as visually separate from us, as they are culturally.

Oil painting of Inle Lake cottonweavers, Burma by Lee Lee
Oil painting of Inle Lake cottonweavers, Burma by Lee Lee
Oil painting of Inle Lake cottonweavers, Burma by Lee Lee
Oil painting of Inle Lake cottonweavers, Burma by Lee Lee
Lee Lee | Weave | Inle Lake, Burma
Oil on canvas | 26″ x 38″ | 2007
Categories
Asia Mobilities Women

Sou Chou Silk Mills

Weave: Silk Spinning in China

Oil painting of silk spinners in Sou Chou, Hina by Lee Lee

The loud clang of industrial mass production is frequent in China these days. Well-known for its sweat shop style of labor, it’s an ominous forecast for the future. In 2005 I photographed a silk mill outside of Shanghai. Under fluorescent lights, the colors of steel and cement are cold, edges sharp. The women working the mill have their backs turned or their faces obscured. The fast and chaotic movement of the mass production is echoed through high energy brushstrokes.

Lee Lee: oil painting of silk mill in China
Lee Lee: oil painting of silk mill in China
Lee Lee: oil painting of silk mill in China
Lee Lee | ‘Spin’ | Silk mill in Sou Chou, China 2015
Unraveling the silk cocoons and spinning the fine silk threads
oil on linen | 20″ x 36″ | 2007
Lee Lee | Spin
Ballpoint pen drawings on vellum collaged with Chinese newspaper
9″ x 11″ | 2007
Categories
Americas

Carolina lintheads

My great grandmother was a spinner in South Carolina for most of her life. She took me there before she died, and I recorded the burnt out and collapsed structures as a perfect reflection of how manufacturing has continued to leave our borders over the years. The elegant brick structures have been abandoned for cheap labor and lower environmental standards found elsewhere in the world.

Offering an intimate portrayal of life in a ‘mill village’, where inhabitants were often referred to as ‘lintheads’, I appropriated excerpts from my grandmother’s letters into burnt drawings of the mill. They reflect the difficulties of life during the industrial era and remind us that we are not so different from people elsewhere.

oil painting on burlap of abandoned cotton mill by Lee Lee
oil painting on burlap of abandoned cotton mill by Lee Lee
oil painting on burlap of abandoned cotton mill by Lee Lee
oil painting on burlap of abandoned cotton mill by Lee Lee
Lee Lee | lintheads
oil on burlap
36″ x 28″ | 2007
“Other school mates called them Niggers because they were part Indian and so very dark.My Mother never told me this.I think this is one reason,she let other people intimidate her,all through Life.Plus her Perents kept her out of School until her younger Sister was old enough to go.That way they could walk together. The had Primmer(same as Kinder Garten)when she got into the First grade,she was 8 yrs.old. She made straight A’s,all the way through the 8th grade,then her Family took her out of School to go to work in the Mill to help support the Family This has always bothered her.I told her than should not bother her.She had 3 Sons that got her smarts and their Daddy’s stong Back,they were not afraid of work.One with out the other does not function very well.”
“Sene and Lum’s eldest Child was named Roy.He worked in a Textile Plant all of his life,had 3 Daughters and was the first to die.Lois was the 2nd.child…Milton was next,Textile,also.After retirement,became a Deputy Sheriff.The Story is that you should never put a Gun and Holster on some People.It changes their entire Personality.He had 2 Sons,the Dr.dropped the Instuments on the firs Baby’s Head and killed it.The next Son lived to be 16 and died with Cancer.We were not familiar with Cancer back then.”
“Mema is the last of her 9 Brothers and Sisters. None of them lived to be her age,neither Perents. She was always sickly,never walking until she was 3.The sister that she was the closest was Kathleen.They played together,constantly …They lived in a House on the Mill Village that was built on very high Brick Pillars You could walk around under it.They would build a play house by drawing off the rooms with a stick in the dirt.They filled each room with broken dishes,vases,back then there were not many things being thrown away.They piled up wood for their stove.An older Brother (Milton)told Mema to go ask Granny for a match to light their stove. Granny came under the HOuse and gave Milton a sound thrashing,he knew better,Mema and Kathleen were too young.”
“Lum could not read and write.He boarded a School Teacher in exchange for teaching him.The Teacher was amazed with his ability to work with numbers.When Lum retired from the Mill,He was Asst.Superintendant of the Mill.A very well liked Man.He suffered so much from Asthma and died when he was my age.”
“Lum and Sene,always lived on the Mill Village.He was born in Pelzer (in Piedmont Sene),which is a Mill Town 16 miles from here.His Mother and Father died when he was very young.An older Brother reared him.He went to work in the Mill when he was 9 yrs.old.Long before child labor laws.Lum bought the Farm where I was born and my Daddy Cecil was a Share Cropper.I remember when I was a Child, Lum would come every Sunday,he and my Daddy would walk over the Fields and discuss things

Quotes from letters written by my grandmother, Bonnie Jean Cromer
In the collection of Eron Johnson, Denver
Lee Lee | lintheads | 11″ x 11″ | May 2007
Xerograph, charcoal, pencil and tar paper collaged with burnt Strathmore paper