She floated like the fish, among her kin who revealed larger-than-life personalities. The exception to this was when she was instructed to recite a poem or perform a dance that she may have recently learned at ballet class. This was a daunting experience for her but was usually followed by applause and accolades in abundance. I realised then that I could stage manage these experiences so that they might work in her favour. To my later regret I adopted the idea that the best way for Katya to please these odd relatives of hers and win approval from them; or approval from anyone who was in a position of power, particularly her grandmother, was to perform, achieve, and produce outstanding outcomes. I knew I could help her. I believed that soon they would be calling her out from under the bed to find out where she had been hiding!
On the whole however I think I managed to fulfil my assigned role as steward fairly well. But what a task! Sometimes I lost her; sometimes she would run away sometimes she became invisible. At other times she was so lively and vibrant that we clashed and I disappeared for a while recognising that to try and restrain her was almost impossible. At other times through sheer exhaustion I would just sit quietly by and watch; particularly at those times when she herself was exhausted and depleted.
However I began by cleverly, I thought, taking into account the wishes of both Katya’s mother and grandmother. I convinced Katya to go to church believing that a religious external locus of control would spark the beginnings of humility, calmness, reverence and respect to satisfy grandma. at the same time to satisfy her mother too the church and church community would provide a code and culture in which she could live that would protect and nurture her.
To Katya, the church (particularly the Russian Orthodox Church) with all its pageantry and symbolism; with its incense and candle-light reflecting off the gold encrusted icons of the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus and with its macabre and powerful imagery of Jesus dying on the cross, was a stimulus for Dreaming up stories. It was also unfortunately a society where she experienced abandonment once again.
Katya’s stories were colourful and sometimes disrespectful. They were often richly embellished. The bible with its rich pictorial imagery provided inspiration……
GENESIS 1, 14-18. 150 x 100. Handmade constructed cloth, thread; embroidery, raw edge appliqué.
Katya’s “Genesis” cloth depicts the creation of light and dark, and day and night by the Christian God who is portrayed as an omnipotent father figure; stable, all powerful, ever present, caring, and loving which was something that Katya had never experienced in real life until much later. In this piece of cloth work, somewhat defiantly, the sun and moon images are not portrayed as creations of a Christian God. Instead the sun embodies a Hindu deity representing the forces of nature, and the moon as it emerges from the darkness of the earth, clings desperately to the sun. Also magical creatures from some Wicca pagan belief embrace the moon goddess with its multiple deities, and the moon is born to give some light in the darkness. You will notice that the trees are set against a sparse and desolate background while the plant life is almost alien in its environment. This imagery captures a feeling Katya often felt as a first generation Australian and as a child from a “broken home “, that she was different from her peers. It also embodies her feelings of isolation when deserted by her ‘Holy Father’. She was however initially comforted by believing that differences did not matter in the eyes of God. As a consequence there is a sense of optimism in this piece of work, an optimism that would survive and sustain Katya throughout her life. The optimism springs from the belief that there will always be something, whether pagan, religious, supernatural, magical or even something from within, to bring light out of the darkness.
Katya’s Genesis cloth portrays her bewilderment of the duplicity of the male God and most of the successive male counterparts in her life. Disillusioned later in life by His and their promises of safety, guidance and nurturing the “Genesis” cloth helped her express her feelings of abandonment and betrayal by ‘God’, the Christian religion, the Church and men. By deconstructing and reconstructing the story of creation she was able to reveal her version of the interplay between mankind, nature, the heavens and spirituality. This was a field of study that interested her and which developed early in life and continued to hold great importance for her.
Patricia was my friend rather than Katya’s and still is a beloved companion to this day. She had long hair, often worn plaited down each side of her face. Katya’s hair was thin and curly and kept short as it looked best that way. Katya was envious of my fascination with Patricia, so to compete for my attention she made her own ‘plaits ‘to wear from rope, probably discarded by her older brothers, which she had found in the yard. She cleverly attached them to her head with the help of bobby-pins from her mother’s dressing table. She deliberately would swing her head from side to side just as Patricia did and enjoyed the sensation of her long plaits flicking back and forward across her face.
That’s not to say that Patricia and Katya didn’t get along, as they both laughed hysterically at these antics, but it was I that was attracted to Patricia first and enjoyed her company in a different way to Katya.
Patricia was intelligent, thoughtful and careful and came from an ‘unbroken family’. These attributes fit with the criteria of my task in helping Katya develop as her grandmother wanted. I thought that perhaps some of Patricia’s traits and behaviour might rub off on Katya and to my delight they did. Additionally Patricia’s mother and father provided a template for what an ‘unbroken family’ looked like. Her mother Adelaide was always bright happy and present and her father Colin organised, intense and absorbed in the world beyond, the supernatural and the afterlife. His interests in this occult world and its practices certainly influenced Katya’s spiritual journey in life; not to mention her cloth Dreaming!
I think Katya gradually began also to admire Patricia’s intellectual and academic qualities and looking back I believe that Patricia had an enduring impact on Katya’s future. Katya discovered her own ability to think analytically due in part to her contact with Patricia. Questioning and challenging her own current thinking and as a result of her conversations and sometimes competitiveness with Patricia, Katya began to develop a broader less reactive view of how to respond to the world. Together they would play with their toys, draw and dance, dress-up and invent and act out complex scenarios. They often charged an entrance fee for their performances…often only attended by their devoted mothers. Patricia could also be a lot of fun!
Patricia, Katya and I have remained friends for many years. Katya expressed her affection towards Patricia often, by gifting her paintings and cloth in its many forms. This was her way of sharing her love toward Patricia. In particular Katya held close to her heart the importance of the Japanese style purse-gift embroidered carefully in Sashiko.
The Purses, for there were many in style, which Katya gave as gifts, became symbolic for Katya. The purse represented a container, a holdall that captured and held the relationship between herself and the receiver of the purse. The value she placed on these gifts and their symbolic meaning were embodied in the decoration or embellishment she adorned upon them as well as the cloth and thread she chose to construct them.
 Sashiko is a form of decorative stitching (or functional embroidery) from Japan. Traditionally used to reinforce points of wear, or to repair worn places or tears with patches, this running stitch technique is often used for purely decorative purposes in quilting and embroidery. The white cotton thread on the traditional indigo blue cloth gives sashiko its distinctive appearance, though decorative items sometimes use red thread.