MUNTHE ART MONDAY:
Name: Ulrikke Mokdad
Please introduce yourself and what you do.
My name is Ulrikka Mokdad. I was born in 1971. I am a tapestry weaver and art historian who lives and works in Copenhagen. As a child, from 1980-86, I used to weave pictures with Tove Heyman, an older female artist. I spent five years in my younger days as a waever-trainee at a workshop located in Copenhagen, I hold a MA. in art history from the University of Copenhagen. I am a member of BKF – Billedkunstnernes Forbund (The Association of Visual Artists) and KKS – Kvindelige Kunstneres samfund (Society of Female Artists). My works are exhibited both in Denmark and internationally, mostly the latter. In addition, I curate exhibitions of textile art and I do also write about the subjects. I am a co-author of the book “Textile Art in Denmark 2008-2018”, which was published by Forlaget the third in 2019. I have been working three years as a curator on my latest big project, an exhibition of 35 large tapestries from the workshop Atelje 61 in Novi Sad, Serbia. The exhibition will take place at the Art Center in Silkeborg Bad, where it will be shown from mid-January to mid-April 2021. When I am not sitting at my loom, writing articles or hanging up exhibitions - my daily work is as a research assistant at the Center for Textile Research, Saxo Institute at the University of Copenhagen, where I research into historical and archaeological textiles.
Tell us about your work.
My primary artistic form of expression is tapestry weaving, a demanding and slow technique. The works are created after a series of workflows that begins with sketching on paper and ends with weaving on my tapestry fabric. While the weaving is on, I have a template in 1:1, a cardboard which is sitting behind the trend threads. The template indicates the most important outlines of the subject, and it’s followed closely. The motif is built up thread by thread and can’t be straightened or erased along the way. In that way, weaving a tapestry is reminiscent of living: You can rewind time or do anything about it – and once a thread is woven into the image, it can’t be peeled off or changed. It can take up to a year for me to make a large tapestry, which means that I produce fewer works than, for example, a painter or graphic artist.
The art museums in Denmark only buy very few works created by female artists. Less than 7% of the purchased works in the last 20-25 years. So, the chances of a Danish art museum investing in my work are to be overlooked. I have in many years invested heavily in foreign and international exhibitions of textile art instead, which has proved to be a clever idea.
In 2014 I was invited to design tapestries for the Atelie 61 workshop in Serbia, based on my international CV. During a ten-day stay down there, executed two colored cartons, which were later woven up by the workshop’s permanent weavers. The finished tapestries were the result of my stay in Serbia and got incorporated into Atelje 61’s museum collection, which is one of the world’s largest collections of modern tapestries.
How has being a woman affected your career?
For me, having children has especially affected my career. I think most other female artists can nod in recognition of that as well. As a woman, you are the one who carries the baby in the womb, you give birth to it and later you get up at night to breastfeed the little one, change the nappy, etc. The first few years with the little newborn means almost no possibility to work with art or do quite a lot other than being a fulltime mom. First when the child has started in day care, you as a female artist can then start to concentrate and focus on creating works of art again. It’s my impression that the careers of male artists are not equally affected of having children. I have seen several artist couples where the women’s work has been put on standby for years after they have had children, while the men have continued to focus on their artistic practice and have been able to take on one big task after another in addition to solo exhibitions in galleries and at museums. It usually ends up that the female artists are almost forgotten. There are many on offer – and you don’t get very far if you apply for an exhibition space with a CV, that contains large “gaps” without measurable artistic activity.
One challenge that I experienced myself has been the struggle to “be allowed” by my partner to spend time on art. It can be really difficult for the spouse to understand and accept, for example, a weaver needs to sit a lot at the loom and have peace and quiet surroundings. The fact that the your partner finds it difficult to tolerate that your relationship with art takes up so much of the female artist’s time is a phenomenon that many of my colleagues have also been through.
What themes do you pursue in your art?
A number of my pictures is about power structures in society and private life. Here the hands are an often-recurring motif. There is mostly a good dose of cynicism paired with a robust humor in the view of the relationship between man and woman that is expressed in my tapestries. In some of my recent works, the beauty ideals for women have been taken under “loving” treatment, such as the women’s magazines’ focus on the perfect look and the use of Botox injections to look younger. These are humorous comments on the modern woman’s limited and limiting self-understanding, in which she – in order to live up to some rather unrealistic demands for external perfection – torments and torments themselves. In parallel, most surprisingly, in recent years, a longing vulnerability has begun to creep in, mostly in my miniature works, where symbols in the form of hearts and flying birds appear.
Which other female artist(s) insire(s) you?
One of the artists whose life and work I find most inspiring is the sculptor, Hannah Ryggen. She is originally from Malmö, but married the Norwegian painter, Hans Ryggen, and livers now far out in the countryside in Norway. Hannah Ryggen used the art of weaving to express her political views, which were strongly left-wing and above all, against war.
In 1935 etc., she weaved a tapestry of fascist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, in which the severed head of dictator Mussolini was pierced by a spear. In the following years, she weaved several monumental tapestries, on which she depicted, among other things like Hitler, the Nazis and the horrors from the concentration camps. It has taken courage and integrity to insist on expressing oneself to violently and uncompromisingly in German-occupied Norway during World War 2. How many of us would have dared the same?
If you should give a new female artist on the alt scene a good advice, what would it be?
First of all, I want to say to her: You must really want this. Not “wanted” or “I would like to”. You are going to work unbelievable hard for countless hours – and you will probably rarely earn anything that’s just a reasonable wage, even if you work really hard. You may risk spending most of your life alone, partly because you need peace to create and partly because it can be unusually difficult to find a partner who can live with both your working hours and your low salary, and also agree and accept to share you with the Art.
Actually, I want to tell you that you should only become a visual artist if you absolutely can’t see yourself not doing it. I would also recommend you learn the craft itself thoroughly, whether it is graphics, painting, sculpture, ceramics, glass or textiles that are your preferred. The more skilled you are technically, the more freedom you have to express yourself. You can always learn more and you will never be fully trained. As for your artistic expression, it must – and must come from the heart. Don’t ever stand still. Being an artist is like being a researcher. You must keep do research in your field and with your works and ask the most important questions which can’t be formulated in words.
What is your ultimate goal with your art?
It is first of all to be able to continue to constantly develop and refine both my artistic expression and my technical skills. In the longer run, I also dream of helping to make tapestry art in Denmark and the rest of the world a more contemporary form of expression. In my opinion, a woven tapestry shouldn’t just be neat, decorative and harmless, but instead have something on heart. I try to comply that in my own works – and I hope that it can and will inspire other weavers to leave the conformist and predictable and instead weave some tapestries that kick a…!
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