«Now we call it sustainability. But using materials that already had a life gives them and our story a continuity». In conversation with textile designer Margarita Aleksievska Sclavi
Relationships with raw materials – House of Ita
«In order to tell stories you need to be personal and brave. No matter the medium you choose to use», says textile artist Margarita Aleksievska Sclavi of House of Ita. Margarita’s creations of handmade tapestries and home textiles characteristically pay homage to her Balkan heritage. Interwoven with a women-centric narrative proposing handicraft and art as a cultural inheritance from women across time.
Each artistic production is singular in its being; and her motivation to work solely by hand comes from the need to honor heritage: «Women always translated beliefs, thoughts and emotions, historically by hand. Creating textiles, jewellery and food. Working by hand came intuitively as it is an imprint from generations of my family».
Every collection till date has been an aesthetic research and translation of the North Macedonian artisanal tradition and its role in the emancipation of women. This intersection reflects upon the complexity and expressive visual language used in Margarita’s work, no doubt a result of her multidisciplinary background as a practicing psychiatrist and artist. The designer also firmly believes: «Creating by hand is about developing a relationship with the materials – it is direct, tactile and sincere. It’s like reciprocity between the medium – textile, paint, thread and how you feel and think».
Introducing Trasposizioni, a collection of handcrafted tapestries
House of Ita’s recent 2021 collection, exhibited at EDIT Napoli, is a visual memoir of the women in her family, deeply connected to Macedonia’s culture: «Creating Trasposizioni was a journey to discover my roots, an intimate ritual that connected me with the culture and feminine energy of my land. The intention was to create a sort of collage of memory; a conceptual map made up of fragments of stories, where the protagonists were women».
Margarita reveals the choice to make tapestries relies on the fact that they are three-dimensional and allow for the unlimited interplay of patterns, colors, and textures yet create coherent, heterogeneous compositions. Archaic textures and hand-painted folkloric motifs reflect the raw material in use – old traditional Slavic-Macedonian garments with a Byzantine imprint.
The tapestries extract fragments of this clothing from cut-out sleeves, collars, and borders to shreds of embroidered patches were hand-worked and embellished long ago. «Re-elaborated clothes, deconstructed and reconstructed to give them new potential. The dresses have three centuries, however they still have something to say. In fact my intention was to give them another existence in time», shares the designer.
The three creations pay homage to her three grandmothers, and each bears their names – Vera (115 x 165 cm), Aspasija (116 x 180 cm), and Evgenija (75 x 190 cm). The tapestry, of fourteen unique sleeves from fourteen dresses of different regions is a collage of personal stories dedicated to and named after Vera – in memory of sewing blouses with her grandmother as a child.
Moving from abstract visuals to human likeness, the other two tapestries pay homage to Evgenija, a dancer, through dynamic forms and shapes, and Aspasija, a learned and educated woman, whose tapestry is more linear and totemic in appearance. Margarita’s artistic productions display an aptitude for arrangement and layering on multiple levels, both tangible and metaphoric.
Sustainability versus timelessness – House of Ita
Using old, traditional clothing as raw material and hand-painting motifs deliver a sustainable approach to Margarita’s creations. This is amplified by manual techniques such as hand weaving, embroidery, spinning, and even gluing. «Now we call it sustainability but for me using materials that already had a life, gives a continuity to the material and our story – the main thing for me in my work is the continuity».
These garments hail from a time when natural textiles like cotton, linen, silk, and wool were ubiquitous, and pigments for dyeing came from natural resources, lending variance in color across regions due to factors like the soil’s acidity and rainfall.
In a play on narrative versus technique, Margarita shares, «I don’t like to use the word recycling in this case because we don’t talk about a transformation in utility, just about continuity.»
Playing psychiatrist and artist: role in iconography
House of Ita’s distinguished artistic attributes draw from the dualistic nature of the designer’s career. Her background in art extends across interior decoration; studied under English designer Abygail Ahern and hand painting and printing at Central Saint Martins, London. In addition to running her label, Margarita is also a psychiatrist and psychotherapist based in Rome.
House of Ita seems to be an act or means of self-discovery for the designer: «My creative work comes from my roots. Going away from home has helped me step back; and visualize who I am and where I come from; through a different perspective. This technique is used in art. While painting, you step back and look at the bigger picture. Similarly in psychotherapy, you look at the problem from outside».
Finding the perfect balance between different expressive languages and subjects demands dedication to research and investigation. This is seen in the detailing and intricacy of the hand-painted designs that Margarita breathes life into, from filigree-inspired ornaments to fantastical creatures like unicorns with bejeweled horns.
Hand-painting medieval jewelry
«I research and hand-paint medieval jewelry from the fourth to the fourteenth century, during the early Christian and Byzantine periods. Filigran inspires my work. Fine jewelry made from silver. Worked into becoming thin as lace and infused with pearls». In addition to nurturing the narrative of her work. North Macedonia and its natural landscape – in particular Lake Ohrid – inspired the designer.
Lake Ohrid (inscribed on the World Heritage List) dates to pre-glacial times. It continues to provide refuge to relic. This is due to its geographic isolation and uninterrupted biological activity. Primitive and endemic freshwater species; many of which are a source of inspiration for Margarita’s series of drawings across her textile collections. She infuses them with a sense of magic and mystery that leans on myth. Revealing influences ranging from Naïve Art to Magical Realism and even Ornamentalism.
These motifs testify to the duality of her influences, as Margarita reveals. «Being a follower of the Jung school of thought; these symbols and ornaments that I paint are expressive of human emotions. Sometimes they are direct and decorative. Often connected to dreams and feelings. The Jungian theory is very connected to art history and art culture».
House of Ita
House of Ita was founded by textile artist and psychiatrist Margarita Aleksievska Sclavi from North Macedonia. Her collections feature handcrafted and hand-painted tapestries. Home textiles, and tableware drawing from Balkan roots featuring a historical narrative on femininity. The latest 2021 collection, Trasposizioni exhibited at EDIT Napoli. House of Ita’s installation, currently displayed at Palazzo Brancaccio – inside the gallery Appartamento by Contemporary Cluster. House of Ita is available on e-commerce platforms like Artemest, Pamono, Galleriamia.