About my work

Script for Noble Savage Video:

Hi my name is Marguerite Kahrl, I am an artist, originally from New England, but I live now in Italy, near Turin. The ‘Noble Savages’ series is an on-going body of work linked to the bioregion where I work in Italy. My artistic work is influenced by my experience as a Permaculture designer. Permaculture is a holistic approach to sustainability, primarily based on the design principles of Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share. This philosophy is reflected in my art projects, which have a social and ecological orientation.

Not long after arriving in Italy, when my husband and I moved into our house, I was given a corredo, a traditional dowry chest, by the family who had been living here. It was filled with antique textiles made from hemp and linen. Hemp had been cultivated, produced and woven by people who lived here four generations ago, about 100 years ago. I was captivated by the expressive qualities of this handwoven textile. I had the idea of hand-sewing hemp fabric into 3-dimensional sculptural busts to memorialize the culture which created it. Since handwoven hemp is now hard to come by, my search for material to build the sculptures takes me to isolated valleys where dialects change from one village to the next.

The characters I depict in my sculptures derive from Francesco Goya’s series of 80 etchings and aquatint prints entitled Los Caprichos, published in 1799. In this critique of Spanish society, Goya portrays complex characters who often deceive themselves while “pantomiming” for others. In my Noble Savages sculptures, I use his series as an encyclopedia of universal personalities and give each sculpture a code name that refers to as specific Goya etching. My decision to use hemp textiles for the portraits came from a desire to combine the warmth and intimacy of such “earthy” fabrics with Goya’s monstrous or exaggeratedly self-important characters, which continue to be relevant today. The result is a collection of hand-sewn heroic busts, which are distinctly expressive.

So far I have hand-sewn over 25 life-sized hemp fabric busts and 20 small scale busts; using the sculptures as a basis I have also made 100 drawings, a-three channel video installation with puppets, 7 bronze editions and a photo series. Now that I have a fully developed body of work, I am eager to share and promote it.

Canavese takes it name from Canapa (Cannabis sativa L or Industrial Hemp), a plant which has had, and could continue to play, an important economic role in a sustainable future, in particular among the agrarian families in the northwestern region of Piedmont, where I live. Cannabis sativa L is not capable of inducing a psychoactive effect and has been cultivated for over 10,000 years.

Historically the material provided textiles, paper, oil (as both fuel and food), building materials, jobs and animal feed for much of the region. Industrial hemp is renewable, accessible, easy to grow and can be used to manufacture anything currently derived from cotton, wood or petroleum.

The durable and expressive qualities of this handwoven material, combined with its role in the region’s history and its potential as an economic and environmental resource, touch upon the craft of living close to the land. I have memorialized this enduring way of life by the process of both sewing and casting the busts in bronze.