Artist blends heritage, feminism into Lockhart Gallery exhibit

The practiced hands of artist Camille Eskell have managed to stitch protests and
feminism into layers of embroidered, lace Indian silk. Her exhibit, “The Fez as Storyteller,” was
erected on Sept. 6 in the Lockhart Gallery on Main Street, as she was present to discuss her
work.

The plain front room of the gallery will be transformed into a multi-media exposé until Oct.
5 on the various cultural restrictions for Jewish, Middle-Eastern and Indian individuals —particularly regarding women.

Eskell chose a fez cap—which is a type of headpiece that embodies the Middle-Eastern
aspect of her exhibit—as the basis for each work of art in her series. Both of Eskell’s
grandfathers worked to manufacture and sell fez caps in Bombay, India, so on a fundamental
level, her art acts as a tribute to her family’s history and culture.

Every fez cap is three-dimensional and features images on each side, which allows the
audience to interact with the work by walking around it. Such an innovative design to the
exhibition forced observers to notice every graphic and their equal role in the piece.
Eskell applied other mediums over the top of her fezzes, such as tassels, decorative
dangling plastic pieces, printed digital images and such objects as “evil eye” beads—a tribute to
Indian culture—to compose a representation of her culture.

“[This] work has always been ... an emotional landscape and a psychological
exploration,” Eskell said.

She has discovered familiar themes that she is passionate about, such as the
subordination of women to men in many religions and traditional belief systems.
“Every culture and every family has their own way of behaving and moving through the
world,” she said. “[My family] are Iraqi Jews ... my parents were born and raised in Bombay in
India.”

Indian influence, like the use of Indian silk, and Jewish symbols, like the Star of David,
are subtly incorporated in many of Eskell’s works. These effectively demonstrate the mixed
emotions that she experiences in her daily life, including cultural pride versus protest against the
limitations placed upon female freedoms.

For instance, Eskell’s piece “Red Fez: Boy, Woman” is an excellent expression of her
conflicting feelings. It depicts Eskell’s father in front of “the holy zones of a synagogue” as a
young boy, which takes her back to her roots. Eskell spoke of how at these synagogues the
women—of all ages—were forced to go upstairs and be segregated from the men and boys.
To Eskell, “Red Fez: Boy, Woman” represents the advantage and superiority of males
over females and the second class stature of women in Judaism.

A large theme that appears throughout Eskell’s work is gender bias, particularly
regarding occasions where women are restricted to the household and are seen as subordinate
to men. She was raised with two strong, rebellious sisters, who emboldened her to take a
stance against the religious and domestic oppression that was forced on her and the people of
her gender.

“Daughters listened to their fathers,” she said. “Men are very dominant; the male is seen
as supreme.”

Eskell hopes that her art shows women that they need to get away from the idea that
males dominate the world.

Several pieces of her work depict women being told that they are less than men, but
these craftily hand-sewn and printed works seem to whisper that women should rebel against
this traditional mindset.

Eskell is drawn to the idea of art communicating concepts to a variety of different
individuals, which she hopes to portray in her own art.
“Art has the power to go beyond the ... political nonsense ... to share [ideas] with other
people,” Eskell said.
Eskell believes that individuals should examine her art on their own terms, however, so
that they might discover the messages peeking through the hems of her fabric for themselves.

 Camille Eskell’s exhibit “The Fez as Storyteller” opened in the Lockhart Gallery on Sept. 6. Eskell uses her art work to pay tribute to her family’s history and culture and also convey messages of feminism. (Ellayna Fredericks/Assoc. Photo Editor)

Camille Eskell’s exhibit “The Fez as Storyteller” opened in the Lockhart Gallery
on Sept. 6. Eskell uses her art work to pay tribute to her family’s history and culture and also
convey messages of feminism. (Ellayna Fredericks/Assoc. Photo Editor)