Hello! I hope you are enjoying your weekend (which is a “long” one here in Scotland). Over alternate Sundays between now and August (during the weeks of the Bluestocking Club), we’ll be introducing you to a range of inspiring women: women who love working with their hands but whose areas of professional expertise combine the practical and material with the scholarly and intellectual – just like the eighteenth-century women whose lives we are celebrating in our sock and stocking knitting this summer. Today I’d like to introduce you to a super-talented friend of KDD, the Scottish-Pakistani weaver Mariam Syed.
After she moved to Glasgow, Mariam had the strong sense that the city’s monochrome aesthetic made her appreciate colour differently. As a teenager living in Karachi, she remembers finding local truck art loud and garish, yet from the perspective of a grey Glaswegian winter, the vernacular palette of her youth now seems dazzling, powerfully evocative, full of joy.
Inspired by inventively decorated trucks, buses and rickshaws, as well as the broader cultural aesthetic of Pakistan, Mariam now brings her rich store of colourful memory and inspiration to enhance the long traditions of Scottish weaving in which she’s found her creative home.
Mariam intentionally removes colour from her work while planning a weave structure. Working with black and white collages and plain graph paper, and playing to her strengths in maths and geometry, she really enjoys the restraint, discipline and lack of distraction this part of the process involves. “With colour it would be all too easy to get overwhelmed,” she laughs, “I just love colour so much! But but once the structure is set up I finally get to play with a varied palette on the loom itself.”
On her 32 shaft Louet Megado Electric Dobby loom, Mariam weaves her signature scarves, prayer mats and rugs in a structured contemporary style which is recognisably bold and graphic, while remaining open, spare and light of touch.
Mariam is a huge fan of her adopted home. “I’m so glad we chose to come to Glasgow,” she says, “the people are so welcoming. I have never felt like I don’t belong here, I know I’m part of the whole thing.”
We love Mariam’s work and were proud to feature her in our People MAKE Glasgow book last year. This week she shared some exciting news with us: that she has just been selected as a recipient of a prestigious award from the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust (QEST). Mariam’s award will fund a Masters Degree at Glasgow School of Art, and support a further course of study into Islamic art in southern Spain. So many of the motifs and patterns that we routinely regard as “traditional” to northern European textiles are rooted in Islamic art and culture. In knitting, just as in woven textiles, Spain is the location of a complex process of cross-cultural aesthetic translation and hybridisation that takes place over several centuries. QEST supports the best practical and scholarly approaches to traditional crafts, and it is fantastic to see Mariam and her work receiving recognition. Many congratulations, Mariam! We can’t wait to see what you do next!