"I just couldn't resist the witch": an interview with Klara Bartilsson
We're honored to feature artwork from Swedish artist Klara Bartilsson this month. "Coven," our cover image, is from her series This Witch. We caught up with Klara to learn more about the series, the medium of silk scarves, and the motivation behind her powerful pieces.
This witch won't burn
1. We are all in love with This Witch. Can you talk about how the idea came about? Why witches? Why now?
Thank you so much! My personal work often deals with feminist ideas and struggles, and it came to a point where I just couldn’t resist the witch. I find witches as a cultural phenomenon very interesting, it has been used as a tool to control and to frighten women, but at the same time been an empowering and uniting symbol for sisterhood and female strength. The feminist movement today is loaded with these kind of contradictions, like people using makeup as a feminist statement as an example. It’s all about taking control and owning your history and culture as a woman. Anyone who’s slightly interested in witches must read ”Caliban and the witch” by Silvia Federici. It’s about the extremely tragic but important history of the witch hunt from a feminist point of view. Reading it I realised how the structures that made the witch hunt possible still thrives all around the world.
This Witch series
2. What do you think of when you think of witches? How does this come through in the series?
Women who are cooperating and sharing knowledge and skills with each other, who’re not afraid to speak up or get in to trouble for their cause, are witches in my opinion. I gave each of the scarves a theme that reflected my image of the witch: Sisterhood, resistance, knowledge, sexuality and power. At first glance the scarves might come through as solely decorative, but taking a closer look I hope they light a spark in every potential witch out there.
3. How did you choose to silk scarves as the medium for This Witch?
Scarves, shawls and textile crafts are connected to women’s history, as provocative or religious symbols, practical garments or a fashionable accessories. In a way the scarf is a reflection of the witch, as something used by both patriarchal forces as well as feminists. I also wanted to explore how one could make a feminist statement with fashion, without trivialising or commercialising the message. In fashion today you can find an overflow of t-shirt with printed feminist statements, which in some way drains the struggle and it’s meaning. Working on This Witch I wanted to synchronise the garment and the message, creating something that maybe empowers the carrier rather than calling out a slogan. And of course silk is a lovely medium to print on.
This Witch series
4. You bio mentions your interest in repeating patterns. Much of your work also involves flowers or other elements of nature. What is the relationship between something as seemingly ordered as a pattern and something as seemingly wild and random as nature?
Nature is wild, but looking closer it repeats itself over and over again, both over time and space. It never ends! The leaves on one tree are almost identical, the flowers on a field too, creating patterns in a way. I want my patterns to be something like that, like a never-ending field of flowers. And a pattern might seem ordered, but I always wish to get movement into my work, making it dynamic and flowing, just as the patterns in nature.