Heather Beardsley


In response to the current European refugee crisis, I have been combining satirical maps from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with infographics of the ongoing crisis, as a lens through which to consider larger issues of migration, nationalism and cultural identity.  The original maps were created at the height of European nationalism, the decades leading up to the first World War, and anthropomorphize countries to reflect the tensions and stereotypes of the era.  By integrating the infographics with these historical images I am representing how the current situation is causing many of these fissures to reopen. Some concepts I have directly illustrated through these maps include border controls reinstituted within the Schengen Area, the dispersion of asylum application throughout Europe,  migration routes taken to the EU, and migrant deaths crossing the Mediterranean Sea.  Other maps address the cultural backlash of this mass migration, like the increasing influence of far right parties, and the heightened fear of travel.

To make these maps I embroidered the imagery on paper, a stiffer substrate than fabric, that also references the printed satirical maps that inspired them. Embroidery makes these maps more tactile than the original drawings, as implied textures and marks become actualized. The infographics exist primarily online, the mediation of the screen causing them to feel less substantial than their print counterparts.  By overlaying these images onto the preexisting maps I imbue them with the a comparable psychological weight.  Embroidery, like maps, has a historical relationship to education in the form of samplers, which were used by schools to reinforce traditional ideals of femininity.  These ideals were represented not only through the teaching of young schoolgirls to sew, but by the written content of the samplers chosen to foster female virtues.  My use of embroidery recalls this relationship, creating a tension between this traditionally docile and “feminine” craft, and the male tradition of mapmaking as both an inspiration for and documentation of conquest.


Heather Beardsley is an American visual artist currently residing in Braunschweig, Germany, where she was awarded a year-long International Artist-in-Residence Scholarship by the Ministry of Science and Culture of Lower Saxony. She received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Fibers and Material Studies in 2015, and her BA from the University of Virginia in 2009.  She has exhibited work internationally throughout the United States and Europe, including Chicago and Baltimore, as well as the UK, Austria and Slovakia.

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