We are Jo and Holly - filmmakers for Black Bark Films, a female led collaborative documentary company, based in Bristol in the UK. We’re really excited to make this film and we think it’s so important that the stories captured in the dress are told and we're inviting you to come on this journey with us.
In the summer of 2019 we were approached by artist Kirstie Macleod to collaborate with her on a project she’s been working on for 10 years, called the Red Dress. Over the past few years we’ve been really fortunate to work with women as they explore themes for identity and femininity. The reason why we’re really drawn to the Red Dress is because originally, over 10 years ago, it was a project centred on Kirstie’s own disconnection and her role within the world, but now it has become much more than that.
The Red Dress has allowed women who live all across the world to connect with each other, it’s transcended borders and it’s brought disparate communities together, all on one piece of fabric.
Kirstie has only met a handful of the embroiderers and none of the embroiderers have ever seen dress now she is completed, and now Kirstie has the opportunity to exhibit the dress in Mexico City, at the Museo de Arte Popular, and meet two of the women in the mountains of Chiapas that have worked on some of the final panels of the dress. This will be the first time Kirstie has taken the dress out of gallery setting, and into the homes of two of her many makers. It will allow Kirstie to embroider alongside Zenaida and Hilaria onto the dress, to provide a space to talk about what this project has meant for them, and for the women to send their own video messages to the other embroiderers who have worked on the dress. It’s such an exciting time for the dress and it's journey and we feel it’s of great importance that this last leg is captured on film.
But we need your help to get us and the dress to Mexico!
What is The Red Dress Film?
After 10 years the Red Dress is finally finished. The fabric is now covered in millions of different stitches, weighted by the threads and beads that adorn it, but also with the collective voice and individual stories of women from across the world all waiting to be heard. Now, she will start the next phase of her journey - to Mexico.
The Red Dress Film is a short documentary (approx 30mins) currently in production. We are a self funded project and we are asking for your support to capture the Red Dress now she is finished - a piece of art which promotes the empowerment of women, amplifies women’s voices and connects and celebrates diversity.
Why is this film important?
- Empowering Women’s Voices
The Red Dress enables women’s empowerment by allowing a space for women to tell their own stories in their own hands, words and images, in a language that is traditionally seen as a domesticated female task - a sign of the household and of female subservience, historically bought and owned by the rich and powerful.
- Accessing Diverse Communities
It has managed to access disparate communities worldwide, getting directly into the skilled hands of vulnerable people, victims of war and oppression who are often not given a voice, and who are not easily able to earn a living.
- Vehicle for Connection
The Red Dress is a vehicle for connection - she has been worked on by over 120 people across the world. Artisans to date include refugees in Palestine, survivors of civil war in Kosovo, Rwanda and DR Congo, individuals in South Africa, Kenya, Japan, Paris, Sweden, Colombia and Peru. The people involved are from vastly varied life experiences; a quirky embroiderer/tagger from Tokyo, a classical violinist from Sweden, an expectant Colombian mother living in Paris, an artist in Oregon (USA), students from the Royal College of Needlework in London, and a nature inspired hippy from remote Chitta in Russia.
- Cross-cultural Collaboration
This work seeks to generate a dialogue of identity and cross-cultural collaboration through embroidery, a conversation across cultural boundaries and borders, with vastly varied styles, techniques, traditions and stories sitting alongside one another on one piece of fabric.
- Amplifying Women’s Voices
The Red Dress is amplifying women’s voices by hosting the personal and collective stories of women through embroidery, to be seen and heard by new audiences - these stories will be experienced in every space in which the dress is exhibited, and on every screen this film is shown.
Watch our teaser trailers
The women who have made this happen
Congo – embroidered words - Gisèle, Esther, Espérance & Judith.
“The words they chose to embroider have a strong meaning for them: solidarity, love, friendship, pride, trust, liberty, peace. This is what training and work has helped them to achieve and feel more empowered. Next door to Rwanda, Congo has been war-torn for the last 3 decades; there is not one day that doesn’t come with its toll. These women have been abandoned by the society because they had nothing to offer: they were widows, single mothers, abandoned wives, orphans... In 2002, they started from scratch when they decided to embark on this new adventure; they had nothing to lose anyway! Today, most of them have managed to buy a plot of land, build a small house; they can all send their kids to school and look after them properly; they can play their role in their community.” Nicole Esselen.
Rwanda – From darkness to light - KISANY collective
“...When I discussed with the embroiderers, they told me that it was the first time that all of them had worked on 1 piece together, a very bonding experience. All these women have lived through the genocide and lost families, relatives, children. For them it has been hell which they embroidered in black, this tiny place where they felt constricted, sad, angry, desperate. With the years passing, the healing process started too and they breathed more freely with every year passing by. Life was stronger than death. The circle becomes wider and wider to take the whole space, an image of the space they are capable to take again while the sun rays symbolise their expansion.” Nicole Esselen
Kosovo – White Free birds (with poem) - ‘Sister Stitch’ - Feride and Fatime Halili
“Being part of this dress means a lot to these ladies as they have a story to tell, they can embroider and they are good at it. They have not earned money for any other work in Kosovo apart from their contribution to Sister Stitch as their lives were greatly affected by war. Also, what makes it even more special and powerful is that many different countries worked on this dress. And, we were a part of it too. Kosovo is a small country with a big history and we are more than proud to be part of this amazing and beautiful dress. I hope that the message of those birds will spread all over the world. We deserve to live free as birds.” Erinna Sheholli (co-ordinator)
“I am very pleased for being part of this big project where lots of other countries took part. It is a great feeling knowing that we contributed on a dress where ladies from different countries worked. I would like to thank Pam and Erinna for choosing us to be part of this project. I am grateful.” Fatime Halili
Their text (written within the birds) reads:
“Better one winter in your own country than 100 springs away. The greatest wealth is to live content with little. Be nice everyone - we live in peace now. Love all, trust some, hate none. A winter is a winter. Peace has come - love yourself first.”
Some of the women and their locations
- Mixed motifs - x15 foundation students, Royal School of Needlework, ENGLAND, 2010
- Sparrow bird on skirt panel - Amanda Wright, WALES, 2012
- Industrial machined base layer on silk in gold floral pattern - Albert Gauguin, Paris, FRANCE, 2009
- Cross stitched shoulder pads - Gada Masrie, Albadia Organization, Ein-el-Helwie, PALESTINE, 2009
- Village life - Ayo-amon-demi, Missibaba Embroiderers, SOUTH AFRICA, 2010
- Goldwork lotus, Alam - Atelier 2M, Bombay, INDIA, 2010
- Traditional motif and text - Rabia Naz, Rhainie, AFGHANISTAN, 2009
- Tut-tut bird - Mary Ayres, TOBAGO, 2013
- Various - 20 members of FANSINA Embroiderers, facilitated/funded by Rachel & Johnny Devas, and the Makad Trust, Sinai, EGYPT, 2014
- Maysaa Kassim Alireza, facilitated/funded by Amro Kayal, SAUDI ARABIA, 2016
- Kimono fiesta - Ruriko, JAPAN, 2018
- Kisany embroiders, facilitated by Nicole Esselan, CONGO, 2018
- Aproade Embroiderers, facilitated by Nicole Esselan, RWANDA, 2018
- Kenyan figures - Kenyan Embroiderers Guild, KENYA, 2018
- Allthread Community sewing group, facilitated by Kerryn Lightfoot, AUSTRALIA, 2019
- Serene bird - Anastasia, RUSSIA, 2019
- Floral and bird wool embroidery - Alma Carr, SWEDEN, 2018
- Free birds - Sister Stitch, KOSOVO, 2018
- South American floral - Maria, PERU, 2019
- South American floral and birds - Catalina Casaga, COLOMBIA, 2019
A view of the Red Dress
“The Red Dress in its final incarnation, a magnificent, regal robe, symbolises the empowerment of women through the creation of something beautiful, something which began with bowed heads and tired fingers but also with faith and joy, an openness and willingness to be a part of something which they could not see at that time but in which they could believe had meaning and worth connecting with other women around the world.” - Alison Myners, Chair of the Royal Academy Trust, The Royal Academy of Arts
What will the film be like?
The Red Dress is an observational documentary, told intimately, with hand held camera work focusing on detail; of the dress, of the contributors clothing, hands, and the body shapes of women (through a female gaze). This will be paralleled with wide shots of landscapes to show where the dress is located, eg. the mountains of Chiapas, the vastness of Mexico City. We will highlight colours that are sewn into the dress, and find them as reflections in the environment, people and locations. Our intention is to eventually make a feature length film about this collaborative piece of artwork - visiting 10 of the key communities who have taken part, more details of which below.
What will the film achieve?
This film intimately connects the audience to the people on the screen by helping us understand that we are all capable of touching each others lives; by shared traditions, by hearing the rich stories of others, and when art brings together people who you may never have imagined connecting with. As this is the final phase of the project we feel it’s of great importance to capture the power and beauty behind the dress in one of her homes. It may be the last exhibition of the dress, or it may be the first of many more, opening doors for the next phase of her journey across the world to meet more of the hands that made her.
It will be shown:
- At film festivals (with a focus on Women’s film festivals)
- Alongside the exhibited dress in future exhibitions. Locations are yet to be confirmed, but following the exhibition in Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City we are confident that more will emerge.
- Separately from the dress in Exhibition spaces
- As an accessible tool for students of needlecraft and textiles art
- Through the channels of NGO partners secured throughout production
Where will the money go?
1st target £15,000 - This will cover basic production costs
2nd target £20,000 - This will cover full production costs including social return
3rd target £24,000 - This will contribute towards post production
£15,000 will be spent on:
We hope this short kicks starts the next leg of the journey of the Red Dress - a feature doc that follows the dress around the world - up to 10 locations selected specifically for their stories; including Rwanda, Japan, Russia, Palestine, Australia, Canada, Kosovo, South Africa, Wales, and Egypt. Kirstie will exhibit in these locations in both high end galleries and community centres to give her back to the people that made her, capturing the connection, the richness of the diversity of its contributors and shining a light on the skilled women who work with embroidery across the world. There is huge scope to explore the impact that the Red Dress has had on the lives of the contributors - both big and small.
What have we done before?
Black Bark Films are Jo Barker and Holly Black; a female led film production partnership that looks to evoke authentic and meaningful conversation. Previous works by Black Bark Films have included In Our Hands (2017), an award-winning feature length documentary made in association with the Landworkers' Alliance. Officially selected for the British Documentary Film Festival, London, UK (2018), New Earth International Film Festival, Krakow, Poland (2018), Life Sciences Film Festival, Prague, Czech Republic, (2018) and Courage Film Festival, Berlin, Germany (2018) - as well as over 300 community screenings across the UK from Cornwall to the Scottish Highlands. In Our Hands won the 2019 Agrofilm Jury Award at Agrofilm Slovakia. Documentary short 100 Miles and 2 Mouths (2016) selected for Annual Copenhagen Film Festival, Denmark (2017), Hebrides International Film Festival, Scotland (2017), Harvest Film Festival, Dorset, UK (2017), Greenmotions Film Festival, Freiburg, Germany (2017). Cv here and website here.
We have a strong relationship with Kirstie and complete access to Kirstie and the main characters in this journey. Originally Kirstie approached us, drawn by our ethos and identification as female led and our collaborative method to make a documentary about the completion of the dress, and we saw a striking opportunity to document this profoundly moving artwork, at the end (or perhaps a new beginning) of it’s journey.
Kirstie Macleod works in Fine Art and Textiles, creating works in different media including experimenting with the idea of garments and dresses representing aspects of the self. Exploring issues of identity, the subconscious and the passage of time through different textile processes, although often in unusual ways.
Embroidery is at the heart of much of Kirstie's work, and provides her constant fascination with it’s diversity and potential as a means of communication (or subversion), it’s history and practice throughout the world both as an art form and in daily life, and the repetitive, meditative and healing effects experienced through it’s creation.
Kirstie has exhibited widely at shows such as Art Dubai and institutions such as the Royal Academy of Arts, and the Barbican in London, receiving the international Premio Valcellina Award for Textiles 2012 for Barocco (the Red Dress). Her unique method and approach to textiles has seen her work studied by various universities including the Royal School of Needlework, London.
We have an array of rewards to offer in exchange for your generous donations, see images below for an idea of what's on offer.
Smudged Dot artwork from artist Kirstie Macleod
Everything In-between artwork by Kirstie Macleod
Soul Journey artwork by Kirstie Macleod