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Domestic Ideograms began with the intention to replicate textile motifs crafted by my bygone relatives from Transylvania, Romania. In several Transylvanian communities, the motifs that adorn domestic cloths are not the outcome of an individual intention, but are inherited from the former members of the family.”

For the Platform Graduate Award 2020 Mihaela-Elena Man presents Domestic Ideograms, an exhibition of drawing, photography, film and writing. This page is her presentation of the project, her research and artworks. Words and images by the artist.

Spineanu Nicolae at work in 10 George Enescu, Mediaṣ, 1959, 2020

I want to stitch or weave like my relatives did, but I don’t know how to do it.

The following material documents this process of textile craft which, having been pursued away from Romania, for more than five months, gave rise to a multitude of drawings, text and tapestry work. All these aim to unpack a practical account of domestic craftsmanship that, due to temporal, as well as spatial constraints, is currently inaccessible.

Glass, motif.
shot by C. W. Winter, Ṣieu, Maramureṣ, 28.12.2018

An ideogram is a graphic symbol that stands for an idea or a concept, and is independent of any particular language. In this way, Domestic Ideograms is a display of works looking into the character of Romanian geometric motifs, as well as a manual suited to everyone keen on understanding or undertaking the labour of crafting domestic textiles.

Expressive tools help me understand the craft I want to pursue. These tools span from placing myself in odd situations, imaginatively reframing the motifs I weave, and reflecting on the difficulties I encounter as a novice craftworker.

You too are invited to navigate Domestic Ideograms bearing these imaginative tools in mind.

Domestic Ideograms and Johanna Unzueta’s Tools for Life

A recurrent act in Johanna Unzueta’s recent solo exhibition, Tools for Life, is the use of imaginative tools to reframe processes of, predominantly, textile craft. This exhibition was on display at Modern Art Oxford from the 3rd of March until the 23rd of August 2020. You can still find a virtual iteration of Tools for Life on the gallery’s website:

Each day, from the 3rd until the 8th of November, you can find a pop-up intervention revealing less visible difficulties, revisions, and reflections embedded in the labour of domestic textile craft. You are invited to hover over Johanna’s exhibition, placed just above, and to search for the videos I insert each day.

You can also find out more about the thoughts behind these interventions in ‘On Domestic Ideograms and Tools for Life‘, which is attached in the Resources section above.

About the artist

Spanning sculpture, drawing, video and textiles, Mihaela’s work interrogates the formulation and articulation of collective and personal histories in the absence of historical documentation.

This quest takes the form of an expanded field study of Mediaṣ, the Transylvanian city where Mihaela grew up. Collaborating closely with her family members and public institutions across Romania and the United Kingdom, Mihaela constructs physical and digital works that emulate the model and function of the archive.

These displays, supported by written and oral storytelling, frequently refer to the ‘Korsakoffian Condition’. This is a narrative construct that enables Mihaela carefully to unpack the social behaviours that have erased, altered or restored the meaning of familiar objects, images and icons.


Showreel: Thought of Maria

For my great-grandfather, a teacher living in a small town by the Danube Delta, activities like sewing or stitching were nothing but preoccupations he pursued outside his domestic and professional duties. For my other relatives in Northern Transylvania, crafting textiles was as vital as harvesting crops or raising cattle. They would make fabrics which they would use as clothing, ornaments, or wall insulation. Making such a fabric would take months of labour, which would be spent on sourcing the wool, boiling it with various seasonal crops you can find in and around your household, setting the fibres on a loom or a frame, and their eventual weaving into patterned rags.

While trying to iterate my great-grandfather’s patterns, I listen to the voice notes in which Maria, my aunt from Maramureș, Northern Transylvania, offers me information on dyeing fibres for subsequent use in tapestry making.

Bunelu’s Napkins: Prologue

Domestic Ideograms would not have happened weren’t I to find a series of a dozen homespun napkins made by my bygone great-grandfather Adrian Mateescu, usually referred to as Bunelu. Noticing the repetitive nature of the rhomboid pattern present in his cloths was what enticed me to have a go at recreating them myself.