Gem Melville – hand painted textiles and a colourful life!
My father was a Scot whose origins trace back to the “black Scots” from the Orkney islands (hence my claim to have Spanish origins: the survivors of the Spanish ship “Armada”were washed up on the shores of the Orkneys where they inter-married with the Scots). My mother has French-Huegenot and English ancestors: apparently,the latter can be traced to Guy Faulks who tried to blow up the English parliament. Let that suffice as evidence of a thoroughly mixed background typical of many South Africans. I am known amongst friends and family to have a phenomenal sense of smell, so, small wonder that I ended up here in the very southern part of the Pyrénées Orientales and virtually on Spain’s doorstep. …………… I followed my nose……….back to my origins.
In South Africa I spent several years teaching general art in secondary schools, until my two sons Andrew and Duncan were born in 1975 and 1978 respectively. After a short interval of staying at home I returned to teaching: first, at the then “whites only” Natal Technikon where I taught drawing and sculpture, and later at the M.L. Sultan Technikon where I taught Drawing and Illustration to Textile, Clothing and Textile students. This institution became a leader in allowing an intake of all races at a time when South Africa was still under the apartheid regime. It was a dynamic and turbulent time to teach as South Africa underwent the transformation from Apartheid into a democracy. I was fundamentally changed by this experience of multi cultural teaching.
[( “Gem Melville has long been associated with the training and empowering of women through design development and craft work- particularly in the context of women affected by HIV/Aids.”
Pakhamani was my passion until 2001 when I left South Africa to live in France.
En route, I happened to glance up and caught the eye of the co-driver. I held his gaze………….and was suddenly overcome with compassion and felt he was the victim of something bigger than we could comprehend. (Coincidently, a year ago, whilst flying en route to France, in search of a house to buy; I was reading“Conversations with God”….and read a passage which discussed that” acts of violence perpetrated against victims could be a means to transcend the violence and be in a state of grace”. I felt a chill up my spine………closed the book; threw it into the luggage hold overhead and thought: “this is a pre-warning……….I am going to be a victim of violence”………..and promptly forgot about it.)
We arrived at “the destination”as the sun set……………. ……..I said to our abductors:” leave us here; and take all we have: the car, cash, cell phones, watches, suitcases of clothes, and a brand new computer”. They hauled us out of the car: placed us side by side…put their guns to our heads and said:”run! run!”……………….We ran towards the ravine fully expecting to be shot in the back…………… we reached the ravine………..turned right, and ran along a dry river bed.
I firmly believe that “my moment of compassion” led to the transcendence of the act of violence…and that my friend and I are alive today because we changed the dynamics of violence through meditation
Armed to the hilt with my South African experiences, I arrived in Céret in August 2001. In 2006 I moved to Reynes to live with Jean Chazarenc.
I am now firmly ensconced at the foot of the Pyrénées, in a house with a wild garden on the banks of “le Tét”.with a garage/studio. I run creative workshops and teach groups or individuals hand painted textiles.
I have had several exhibitions in France and in Barcelona since settling here. The most significant being a Documentary Textile exhibition in 2007 in The “Museu di Textil Terrassa/Barcelona. Es.
[(“Melville’s work is strongly influenced by her collaborative work with Zulu women who collectively produced a range of contemporary textiles under her direction, which draw upon the rich and varied symbols of a multi-cultural society”.
[( “In her current drawings and paintings; parallel to producing textiles; Melville creates her own visual language of disparate styles, objects and influences. She merges everyday objects, texts from old books, fragments of /and reference to her textiles, to European and Indigenous artefacts.”
I return to South Africa annually to renew my source of inspiration; yet I seek to integrate my “Africaness” with new perceptions and experience in France.
[(“Textile designer, and now painting and drawing, her life and work are marked by her multi-cultural origins”.
– Gem also runs hand painted textile workshops for groups or individuals. These vary from one- day workshops, week end workshops,and regular weekly sessions.