In the recurring series Souvenir Stories, Emily Spivack asks accomplished storytellers about memorable objects they've brought home from their travels. Here, artist Sheila Hicks tells of the woven pouch she picked up in Brazil during an unexpected detour.
I went to Brazil a few years ago to exhibit in the São Paulo Biennial. The work I sent for the show used feathers and as a result, it was held up in customs. So that I wouldn’t get nervous about the delay, the committee organizing the biennial suggested that I visit a small coastal town called Paraty to relax. They’d let me know when my work had cleared customs and we could move forward with the installation. Paraty was beautiful. During the day, I trekked around, watched the boats, and went swimming. At night after dinner, I wandered down cobblestone streets. I found a shop, this little hideaway, that was assembling ethnographic material from the Amazon region in Brazil. I hung out there every night until midnight because they had so many marvelous things.
That’s where I found this little pouch. It was amidst piles of them. It’s nothing special in the sense that it wasn’t unique, but I have kept it with me ever since because of the color and structure. The color is natural; it’s not dyed. It’s made with two different types of reeds. The fineness and twisting of the reeds, the interlacing of them into these repetitive patterns is something quite delicate and intriguing. When you look at it against the light, you see the structure—it’s a single-thread construction that’s crocheted, not woven. The motif is what the Bauhaus would call figure and ground—when the figure and ground are of equal importance. It’s very subtle and cleverly done.
After a few days, I left Paraty. The crates had been delivered and we could make the show. All the panic was useless and I returned to São Paulo.
Since then, I take this pouch with me everywhere I go. It holds my utensils for working. I keep in it an Olfa Touch Knife for opening packages and cutting thread, a Pilot Croquis 6B lead drawing pencil for making quick sketches, a Lamy pen with dark blue ink, a BIC Mini mechanical pencil that’s red with a fine point and a huge eraser, long plastic ink replacement tubes to use as ink sticks, a black pen from the Bayerischer Hof Hotel, which was worth stealing to remember it’s one of the best hotels in Munich, and other odds and ends. I can even fit my glasses—a thin, wireless pair of Lindberg’s—if I wrap a piece of cloth or Kleenex around them.
I move around a lot, so I travel with the spirit that if anything is confiscated or lost, it’s not the end of the world. I can’t keep that baggage in my head. But for now, the pouch–wherever I am, it is.
Sheila Hicks is an artist whose work has been exhibited internationally, including the 2012 São Paulo Biennial in Brazil, 2014 Whitney Biennial in New York, and the 2016 Sydney Biennial and Glasgow International Festival. She divides her time between her Paris studio, New York, and Connecticut.