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Unitec student Nicola Fraser highly commended in Eden Arts Initiative

  • Nicola Fraser with her crochet work Thakl al umahat – Weight of a Mother.
    Nicola Fraser with her crochet work Thakl al umahat – Weight of a Mother.

A third-year art project helped Unitec student Nicola Fraser retell a story of loss and heartache in her great-great grandmother’s life, earning a highly commended judges award worth $2000 in the Eden Arts initiative for her crochet work –  Thakl al umahat – Weight of a Mother.

17 February 2022

Nicola drew on her family history with deep roots in west Auckland and across the oceans to Lebanon.

Nicola’s great-great grandparents, Najibie Tanyaus Ataya and Assid Abraham Corban immigrated to New Zealand in 1892 from Mount Lebanon, a small village near Beirut, and established a vineyard in West Auckland, which grew into the well-known Corban’s wine estate.

Although the family would have many children and descendants, sadly their sixth child passed at only nine months while Najibe was working in the vineyard. Najibe travelled with the baby’s body to see her husband in the city, a difficult journey for the grieving mother as she tried to shield her child from prying eyes and questions.

When wondering what to do for the art project, Nicola says she decided to look back at her family history. The first part of the project was a crocheted family tree, which she pinned to her wall.

“It was part of discovering the family tree and the stories that came with it, that I found the story of my great-great-grandmother and the baby that passed.

It was such a visceral reaction that I had to that, being a mother myself, that I knew it was something I needed to harness and encapsulate somehow,” she says.

Nicola chose crochet as the medium as it is a craft she is passionate about.

“I taught myself off YouTube to crochet not long after I had my second baby, and he’s eleven now so it’s something that always stuck with me. When I first started, I remember I was always itching to get back to my latest project, so it’s become a passion.”

During her research for the project, she discovered that Najibe was a talented crafter and taught many of her grandchildren how to crochet.

“Crochet was instrumental in helping me battle through my post-natal depression and having this connection across time with Najibe is a comfort in my mode of making.”

It became a very multi-layered project, representing many different elements to the story, which can be represented many different ways, she says.

“The cloth it lays on can be interpreted as the baby’s shawl in which she carried him, it can also be interpreted as a map of the land that they worked on. Each crocheted row could be a vineyard.

“The bassinet being black and hard to see, is representative of death and mourning and loss. There was also an audio element that played train tracks.

“The X has a multi-meaning as well. X marks the spot – where they were in the vineyard, or as a symbol of death. Most importantly for me, it represents her signature as she was illiterate and that is how she signed her name, so that honours her as well.”

The Eden Arts Awards were held at Webb’s Gallery in Mt Eden on Saturday, 5 February after being postponed last year due to COVID. The judges acknowledged the challenging circumstances surrounding production for all entrants. Nicola, who recently completed her Bachelor of Creative Enterprise, (now Bachelor of Design and Contemporary Art) is sole owner, founder and manager of a small Crochet blog – Nico’s Knots – where she crafts commissioned projects ranging from hats to blankets and more.


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