In Ancient Greek mythology Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty. According to her myth when she wept in sorrow and grief her tears were transformed into flowers and as they fell to the ground they blossomed into anemones. The Tears of Aphrodite is an art installation by Émilie Gautier and Rebecca Devaney that began on International Women’s Rights Day 2019. Inspired by the evocative imagery in the myth of Aphrodite, anemones were chosen as a symbol to represent women. Émilie and Rebecca are textile artists working as Haute Couture embroiderers in Paris. They designed this project to highlight the exquisite savour-faire of embroidery whilst visually representing the levels of sexual violence committed against women in France.

Throughout the installation members of the public were invited to participate by creating their own textile anemone in rich tones of pink, fuchsia, purple, red or navy blue. It took a few moments of time to make each flower, beginning with layers of opaque and transparent silk for the petals, frayed organza for the pistils and finally a soft velvet heart for the centre. As each anemone slowly blossomed it was a gesture of compassion, empathy and solidarity for the women who have been victims of sexual violence in France. When their flower was completed they pinned it to a tambour embroidery frame stretched with a gossamer organza. A team of Haute Couture embroiderers delicately sewed each flower in place and a tableau emerged over the course of the installation, embroidered with a profusion of anemones.

Each tableau represents a single day and each flower represents a woman who has been raped. It is estimated that at least 200 women are raped every day in France. The figures are provided by Stop Violences-Femmes, The Feminist Collective Against Rape, The National Observatory of Violence Against Women and a study by Odoxa, published in Le Figaro in October 2017.

If the installation were to continue and a full calendar year was created with 365 tableaus it would consist of 73,000 flowers.

Embroidery is an ancestral craft that has been traditionally passed on through generations of women around the world. In France it has been elevated to a breath-taking art form. The embroiderers who volunteered their time and doigts de fée for the installation work in the world famous ateliers of Lesage, Montex and Vermont, creating beautiful embroidery and embellishment for the Maisons d’Haute Couture such as Chanel, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, and Givenchy. The opulent cotton velvet used for the hearts of the flowers, the soft silk crepe and georgette used for the petals and the fine silk organza used for the pistils were sourced in Sentier, the centre of luxury textiles in Paris since the 18th century. Each floral motif has been meticulously prepared using traditional 19th century techniques in the renowned Parisienne atelier Cécile Henri. The Tears of Aphrodite illustrates this heritage and savoir-faire, the meticulous skills and patience of the embroiderers, the fine craftsmanship and techniques used in the ateliers and the rich qualities and illustrious effects of using natural, sustainable fabrics.

Contributors

Embroiderers: Anaïde Fleig, Chiyoko Caussade, Isabelle Bruneau, Julia Merran, Keiko Kamiya

Photography: Sidonie Ronfard and Émilie Gautier

Fabric: TissuMarket, Paris (kindly sponsored installation through exceptional discount on fabrics)

Atelier: Cécile Henri, Paris (kindly sponsored installation through provision of specialised artificial flower form tools)

Location: Mayor of 20th Arrondisement, Paris (kindly sponsored installation through provision of location at the International Women’s Rights Day 2019 celebrations)