As a young child in the 1950s, Vera Tessmer enjoyed creating exquisite garments for her dolls from her stepmother’s box of laces. She remembers: “I was never allowed to cut the lace, so I had to use gentle and clever sewing to dress my dolls, and I had to undo everything afterwards and pack away the laces as I found them.” Later in life, Vera worked with her daughter Melanie Sarantou to create fashion collections that were showcased in the USA, Finland, Germany and several African countries from South Africa to Niger.
Vera’s career as a maker was usually intertwined with her daughter’s work as a fashion designer, but in the work titled ‘Memory Box’, the duo’s usual working roles were reversed. Vera steered the creation of the 104 ‘boxes’ that represent themes from her childhood and her connection to her natural environment, love for animals and birds, and her ongoing desire to use techniques and materials to express these memories. In the processes of making memory also played an important role as the team, while working together, reminisced about the memories of their creations and dreams about future work and collaborative projects.
The work can be reinterpreted as a collection of memory boxes that each hold a particular memory, but it can also be interpreted as a three-dimensional quilt that has been collectively stitched. The colourful work is created from all sorts of collected, found, reused and new materials. Green, blue and brown shwe-shwe printed textiles were used to create the cubes that were filled with reused materials. The work is created in partnership with Melanie Sarantou.
Text by Melanie Sarantou