Stitching in Place: Migration, Memory and Habitual Practices

Ms. Melanie McKee - Post Graduate
2012 Conference

Although struggles with isolation, language and cultural barriers are evident in most migration stories, in this paper I will consider the way plain sewing as a creative and habitual practice can be a means of physically and memorially re-experiencing home even though a person is displaced. This paper combines with a picture narrative to discuss the experience of displacement, home and belonging as observed twice over in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and then Australia. It is a story in relation to my maternal grandmother, Catterina Rossetti, an Italian immigrant to both countries. From a visual arts perspective, I investigate the way in which plain sewing sustained my grandmother through the various transitions associated with multiple migrations. When discussing displacement in the migration experience, Edward S Casey’s concept of Habitual Body Memory is applied. Although marginal and resistant to narrative, Habitual Body Memory is sustaining in its nature, as habitual actions constitute everyday activities and functions central to belonging. I am interested in my memories of the farm homestead in Zimbabwe, recollected through my grandmother’s sewing, a habitual practice that she has carried over to Australia. Catterina’s ability to continue to perform these habitual actions within the home space has underpinned her sense of belonging and in addition influenced my modes of remembering home – from Italy to Zimbabwe to Australia.

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About the author

Melanie McKee was born in Harare, Zimbabwe and immigrated with her family to Perth, Western Australia in 2001. She has undertaken study in the Arts at Curtin University and completed an international study exchange program at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts de Paris in 2008-09. Melanie is employed at the Perth Centre for Photography. She has exhibited both locally and internationally, and is currently a PhD candidate at Curtin University in Western Australia.