Skip to main content
University of Cambridge

Open: Tuesday–Sunday, 11am–5pm

We are closed on Bank Holiday Mondays

Please note the house will be temporarily closed for 4 weeks from 14 March 2024

Book Tickets

Open: Tuesday–Sunday, 11am–5pm

We are closed on Bank Holiday Mondays

Please note the house will be temporarily closed for 4 weeks from 14 March 2024

Stories

The Making of 'Our exile grows a day longer and a day closer is our return'

Curatorial Assistant, Megan Breckell, tells us more about Our exile grows a day longer and a day closer is our return by Issam Kourbaj — a new work created for the exhibition Issam Kourbaj: Urgent Archive.

Our exile grows a day longer and a day closer is our return (2024) by Issam Kourbaj is a new artwork created for the artist’s current exhibition at Kettle’s Yard, Issam Kourbaj: Urgent Archive. The work consists of over 4000 date stones, sewn onto a found canvas tent. Each stone represents each day since the beginning of the Syrian uprising on the 15 March 2011.

The work was created by Issam and a group of local volunteers in workshops led by Issam’s son, Mourad Kourbaj, in the weeks leading up to the exhibition. Each week the volunteers would sew date stones to linen fabric ready to be attached to the tent.

The durable materiality of the tent and its function to provide shelter meant that it was difficult to sew the date stones by hand. There was a great pulling together of ideas from the artist and volunteers to find solutions as to how to make the materials work together and create a coherent piece. To ensure the material integrity of each aspect of the artwork remained, the tent was first cut into strips and the date stones were sewn onto them. These strips of sewn stones were then threaded back through the tent fabric, like buttons through a buttonhole on a garment. Each strip of fabric contained the number of stones that signified three months of the calendar year. This solution also enables the reverse of each of the handsewn strips of date seeds to be visible from the other side of the tent, carrying the potential for further meaning and modes of display to be established.

Photo by Jo Underhill

Gallery

Sewing workshops with a team of volunteers

The date seeds were collected over a period of a few months prior to the exhibition. Many staff at Kettle’s Yard were given a box of Iranian dates to take home with them and eat, collectively saving the stones for the artwork.

Each date stone is unique in size, shape and colour, almost like miniature artworks in themselves. The date stones had holes drilled through them, so they could be sewn on to the base fabric. Red thread was used to sew the stones onto the strips of fabric – a reference to the bloodshed during the years of conflict and destruction in Syria. Only hints of the red stitching can be seen from the front of the work, relating to how news coverage on events from Syria has reduced in recent years, despite the ongoing conflict. The stitching on the back of the fabric possesses similarities to the date stones, as the patterns created by each volunteer’s individual sewing style and technique are unique. The workshops and the process of sewing as a group was a powerful outlet for those taking part to share their own stories and connections to Syria, conflict and wider themes explored in this exhibition, as well as their own artistic practices.

The use of date stones has multifaceted meanings within this work. There is a play on the word ‘date’, as the date stones act as a calendar, counting each day that has passed since 15 March 2011.

On 15 March Kourbaj will attach further stones to the tent, to represent more time passing during the exhibition. Date stones and seeds are an important and recurrent theme in this exhibition. The artist is interested in how each seed is an archive within itself, how seeds are in turn archived and preserved and how they possess the potential to grow.

See Issam Kourbaj: Urgent Archive until 26 May 2024.

With thanks to the workshop volunteers:

Carol Billinghurst, Charlotte de Blois, Anne Chippindale, Sophie Evans, Sara-Jane Hall, Veronika Lorenser, Lizzie Madder, Anne Matthews, Tessa Mitchell, Sophie Neville, Chris Reedyk, Susan Rees, Lynsey Stafford, Julie Taylor, Sally, Tilley, Liz Todd, Dr Elizabeth Tym, Jill Willetts.