Lace in Alagoas - A nexus of art, sea, and women
by Cassia Bundock
The art of lace making is dated as far back as the 15th Century, it was originally created by the women of the Middle East then disseminated throughout the world by wars and imperial conquers.
Today this art form is embedded with history, tradition and culture that narrates the trajectory of information passed from woman to woman and between their cultures; spanning from a century old cultural heritage all the way to a specific local social ecology.
Lace making facilitated women to create objects of imagination, perceptiveness, beauty and function in a myriad of techniques. One of those lace techniques - the knots and nets - is derived from an old survival method, used as a tool in everyday life travelling aboard long expeditions from Europe to the New World and arriving in Alagoas, a village of Caetés Indios on the east coast of Brazil. The ‘lace of knots’, ‘knotting’, 'filet’, or ‘renda filé’ as referred to in Brazil, is a properly structured web made of knots and meshes that can attain many variations by spacing, scaling and embroidering upon nets of square mesh, aka ‘fishnets’, a material so common in the coast of Alagoas where fishing is one of the local prolific activities.
Netting possesses unique suggestive capabilities; it can give a sense of cycles, seasons, memory, loss, ageing and mortality. Its units are interweaved linear elements; or relationships of time and space that are highly manipulative to allowing infinite design possibilities. The ‘filet’ lace work is open, weightless and transparent. Its nature is tactile, seductive and able to be employed to reflect the intimacy of a special moment or place. It can become a functional object of ritual and celebration or an object to adorn the body; a wearable aesthetic object that allows one to step into the artwork as an intimate relationship between art and audience.
‘Filet’ lace’s colours and patterns can imply the rough and smooth textures of the landscape, both physical and metaphysical. Knots on a net can represent the connections of life that support and fortify us ; they can represent the markings of time or simply connections that trail a journey through this world. The 'filet' lacework from Alagoas is designed according to its purpose and the ethnicity of the maker. They are a interrelation between artists and their environment and a documentation of their lives. Ultimately this art form threads, in every sense of the word, the interconnections and stories of their maker’s home and believes.
It is from the sea that ‘Yemanjá', the Brazilian sultry goddess of the sea, rises surrounded by pearls and flowers caught on fishnets or, perhaps it is ‘renda filé’. It is from the sea that new people, new culture and new language was carried into Alagoas - the sea brought in change. The sea is Alagoas's identity; its cultural presence; its physical place where colours are most vivid and where life can be lived more intensely.
The sea is the spiritual place where possibilities are dreamed and where hope is manifested. The sea suggests a different life in a different world, it renders an escape.
The sea, for the women in Alagoas, could become their association and their interlacement.
Women from Alagoas have little chances to study. Access to school can be restricted to the underprivileged. For many of these women the art of lace making is the only skill that is passed on to them. The women sit with other women and share the history, tradition and techniques of this art craft. Their lives become their lace making. The tradition slowly turns into contemporaneity. Everyday and all day these women are knotting on a net in a repetitive process that leads to an unique creative experience. They learn to create a visual image by the amalgamation of colour and structure and through this undertaking they gain the capacity to be a painter and a sculptor both at the same time - building and colouring.
The work that these women produce has such a rich cultural heritage that binds them. Groups of women are formed around lace making. These groups become associations. These associations become businesses. Through lace making women are able to make a living and support their families leaving behind the precariousness of their lives.
It could be said that the ‘filet’ lace practice may expose a vein of fragility on their makers but on the other hand it leads them to discover their empowerment. These women begin to understand, empirically, the meaning of entrepreneurialism by intuitively practicing innovation, collaboration and experimentation in their daily practice.
In a time of technology disruption, globalised consumerism and large scale production, these lace works promote meaningful connections between individuals and invite for an appreciation of creativity and the underlying stories of the transient nature of human existence.