JLife meets South Manchester-based artist Jo Scorah to discuss her work with the Women’s Textile Group of the Manchester Jewish Museum.
With an ancestry hailing from Aleppo, Syria, local artist Jo Scorah has often associated her work with themes of migration and cultural identity, which bridge the gap between communities of different religions and backgrounds. Commissioned by the Manchester Jewish Museum to lead the Women’s Textile Group, Jo’s recent work, In the Hands of Women, is a collaged dress which further explores the themes of multi-faith heritage while celebrating the diverse identities of each of the group’s members.
“I instinctively had the idea of making a dress but had to think outside the box with how it should be displayed,” said Jo. “The group is very multi- dimensional, with a lot of cultural differences. I had no previous knowledge of how adept the group was at sewing, but knew the project had to be visually cohesive when putting it together.”
With the project taking place during lockdown, Jo posted a dyed panel of fabric to each of the 14 women involved to work with at home. After instructing the members to produce a portrait of their face, she encouraged the group to relate to their individual lives and backgrounds when deciding what else to include on the banners, whether it was memories of weddings, grandparents, or even family recipes.
“The group took time to get things going at first,” said Jo. “But once guided in the right direction it all came together nicely, and it was amazing to see all the different ways their ideas were put down onto cloth. I reassured them that the portraits didn’t have to be very lifelike, and you don’t have to be brilliant at sewing either – although it turned out that some were better than me!”
Jo has continued her commissioned work with the Manchester Jewish Museum, leading other groups and workshops in the Cheetham Hill area including with students at Abraham Moss Community school. The textiles masters graduate also mentors young university graduates nearby at the new up and coming arts space, The Yard.
“The Yard is a fabulous place that puts in a lot of time and effort into infusing music, art, and fashion into one creative space. It’s a great concept which recruits mentors such as myself to put exhibitions together and guide the younger generations.”
Alongside making the dress, the Women’s Textile Group also had the chance to collaborate with Turner Prize-winning artist Laure Prouvost for her film installation, The Long Waited, Weighted Gathering based on the original testimonies of the museum’s synagogue when it was first built in 1874. The group embroidered four panels for the Belgian artist which bordered the screen projection, with the full installation making an appearance at the Manchester International Festival last year.
“The work we did for Laure turned out to be absolutely fantastic,” said Jo. “My aim has always been to bring people together through art and textiles, and women in particular break the boundaries in religious differences. I’m very proud of the group and what we’ve accomplished together.”
In the Hands of Women is now featured in the Manchester Open Exhibition at the HOME gallery, where it will be showcased alongside over 2000 entries from Greater Manchester’s diverse artistic talent until the end of March.
To view or purchase Jo’s work visit Joscorah.co.uk