In celebration of International Women’s Day, the V&A today announces Katerina Jebb/Elizabeth Parker, a new display showcasing a single large-scale photomontage by Katerina Jebb. Jebb’s artwork spotlights a rare 19th century embroidery sampler from the V&A collection, which narrates the incredible hardships of its young female creator, Elizabeth Parker, who was born in 1813. This installation, records and re-frames the sampler providing visitors with a larger-than-life representation of the work fitting of the magnitude of its words.
Katerina Jebb has an arresting visual style and is most famous for photomontage and the digital scanning of bodies and objects of emotional significance, and has photographed any number of famous faces; from Kylie Minogue and Tilda Swinton to Setsuko Klossowska and Sue Tilley. A focus of her work is the female experience of the body and of the objects that the body interacts with.
Through the unique process of digital scanning, which involves producing multiple high-resolution scans of the object before assembling them to create a photomontage, Elizabeth Parker’s sampler is transformed from a small personal artefact, just 86cm x 74cm, into a monumental 2m x 3m column. Jebb’s work acts as a visual testimony to Elizabeth Parker, and bears witness to the hardship of the young creator’s life. The high resolution of the image – as well as the size of the work – means that Parker’s stitched words are now accessible for visitors to read and contemplate like never before.
The original sampler – which will also be on show in the V&A’s fashion gallery during the display’s run – features a deeply personal account by Elizabeth Parker. It highlights the realities of life for many women in the 19th century, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and its words still strongly resonate today. Across 64 lines of cross-stitch, Parker tells the story of her life in service, abuse from her employer, mental turmoil and her thoughts of suicide. In telling her story through needlework, Parker subverts the medium of cross-stitch in a deeply transgressive act of resistance – taking the art form away from a feminine and obedient pursuit of leisure to an arresting platform used to make physical her unspeakable trauma, and to shout loud about her experiences of ‘cruelty too horrible to mention’.
Oriole Cullen, Curator of Fashion at the V&A said: “Katerina Jebb’s calmly composed images frequently contain a strange or unsettling edge. Inspired by the unconventional sampler in the V&A collections, her arresting study, magnifies and reinvigorates the powerful words and testimony stitched by Elizabeth Parker in 1830. On International Woman’s Day 2021, it calls to us to contemplate the message contained within. It highlights the sobering fact that despite so many societal advances, many women around the world today still suffer in the conditions that Parker experienced.”
Kylie Minogue, Singer-Songwriter said: “Katerina is one of my best, wisest and wonderful friends. As we reach thirty years of companionship complete with our personal and shared voyage of discovery into womanhood, I couldn’t think of anyone better to mark International Women’s Day. Katerina’s work is at once clinical and poetic in this beautiful montage created especially for our beloved V&A Museum. She brings Elizabeth Parker’s intimate 19th century thoughts to us, her whispered yet defiant stitches now amplified, as if booming through a loudspeaker for us to muse upon in the 21st century.”
Katerina Jebb/Elizabeth Parker will be on display as part of the museum’s reopening programme. Visitors to the website can also enjoy the power of the photomontage from home at vam.ac.uk/katerina-jebb.
Photo credit: Katerina Jebb