The Craft of Metaphor

I poke my finger. Gently, I press it to see where I have punctured it yet again and a bead of blood tickles my skin. Shallow. I slide my needle through five green beads, five red. My nose nearly touches the cloth as I force the metal and fabric into conversation.

This small item is my world in this moment, and in this moment the world becomes metaphor. There is no way to create this beaded pendant except bead by bead. Every mis-stitch, every motion that draws blood instead of progress, is an essential part of the process. To create something durable, something of beauty, time and persistence are the most valuable tools. This is true for the strawberry protruding from the fabric in my hands; this is true for our world.

I try to open myself up to an unfamiliar worldview.

Around me, my peers discuss something, anything. First, we speak of immediate shared experience, the task at hand. Then topics of independent discussions migrate away from one another, until a single common sentiment expressed more loudly than the rest leads them to reconvene. I’m struggling to stitch! Someone believes that our conversations should be more refined to reflect the skill of the art form.

But it is just right. I pull my nylon thread taut and hold the fabric medallion in front of me to see the full image.

If beading is a cultural and social pastime, would the conversations held by congregations of Indigenous women not bear resemblance to our own, albeit contained within their own cultural frame? Would they not speak of upcoming festivities as we do now? Would they not share helpful techniques to aid in the task of beading as my friend has been doing for these past trying minutes of concentration? Would they not laugh as stale conversation dredges up colourful stories too entertaining to withhold? Experience is not limited to a task; it is everything surrounding it. And in a setting in which creation is predominantly intellectual, I am now introducing a fusion of physical and mental faculties. There is wholesome balance in this, I think, that my education has hitherto lacked.

I seek instruction as my needle nears the fabric’s edge.

As I try my hand at an unfamiliar art, I recall the power and intricacy of metaphor, mentioned to us by Sam Thomas the night before. This strawberry is a simplistic casement for a complex notion. I am not yet literate in the material language, which, Sam has explained, contributes so greatly to the art of Iroquois beadwork; and yet the motions are not so different from those I employ to create string bracelets. Experience lends familiarity to foreign metaphor, an alternate lens to understanding.

Perhaps the metaphor varies, while the content remains very much the same. Black and White. Good and Bad. Ying and Yang. Strawberry and Hummingbird.

Sam spoke to us about the goal of his artwork The Power of Place—Strength of Being. He transcribed the cultures he encountered into an expression of his own.   With these words, I attempt to recycle the tactic. These words are my beads and this story is my encounter— and each of the former is rife with my own cultural experience.

A sharp intake of breath. I’ve poked my finger again.

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