When I was in my late teens I sat in a bar with a friend. My friend, who was politically active in the local Labour Party, asked: “What would you like to change in education?” I answered that I would like us to read more poetry in school. He laughed. I had just discovered theatre. What I was trying to say back then was that access to culture wasn’t a given, but imagination was.
In Flights, Olga Tokarczuk writes: “The ruler who sets up taxes has his sway over what his subjects will eat, what they shall sleep on, and whether they’ll wear linen or silk.” The realties lived through religion, nation states, identities, communities, families, friends, clubs, work places, sports teams, farms, industries, consumption, leisure time, politics, and administration. Yes, we wear clothes, and textiles help a place to become a home. What would it mean to decolonize cotton? To decolonize clothing and everyday textiles? In Flights one of the novel’s protagonists desires to rule over her own time, and, by spending maybe a little bit too much time in airports, she gets trapped in this privilege of the middle class, its movement stood still. Olga Tokarczuk writes in Flights that the king, when he still had power, never cared about the feeling of his minions, but rather about how soft or rough a material felt on the human body, the general atmosphere of an environment, like a curtain or a temperature in a room. A material quality. How do they transform? Is to name it a symbol or a trap? What are the rough, violent, and hard words for this touch? When the skin of the hands is ripped and left bleeding? When lungs can no longer breathe and tumors are growing inside one’s own body? It is a surface, you say, but haven’t clothes always been used as one of many parameters to restrain and restrict bodies, and only sometimes to let them run, let them stir?
Cassandra—cursed to utter true prophecies but never be believed
Maria—mistress of the sea
Aida—happy, or, “run across the field”
Aminah—trustworthy, also the name of the Prophet Muhammed’s mother
Editorial work: Katherine MacBride
Production support: Irina de Graaf, Rianne Groen, Lou Stoppard, Het Nieuwe Instituut
This piece of writing is dedicated to Umida Niyazova, who was forced to flee her native Uzbekistan in 2009 because of her human rights work related to cotton.