Using traditional textiles today
Often when thinking about textiles utility comes to mind. This connotation is largely attributed the medium’s rich history across a variety of cultures, from decorative medieval unicorn tapestries woven from wool and silk thread; to the Kente fabrics of 17th century Ashanti weavers today in Ghana; to Peruvian woven rugs and tapestries of the Quechua tradition. An integral part of community and daily life, textile fabrication has provided people with shelter, costuming, decoration, protection comfort… and has also been used to document and express narrative.
In a time of mass consumption, production, and isolation, a number of contemporary artists are veering towards handmade practices which take a lot of time and patience. Whether incorporating ready-made found textiles into a work or meticulously creating their own, textile artists are particularly difficult to categorise. However, one thing that brings textile artists together is their awareness of the historical and cultural significance of the medium. I would like to share some great artists that introduce traditional Textiles into their work.
Artist Sarah Zapata develops installations. “If I Could” at Deli Gallery last March is one of them. She is a Peruvian-American artist that uses traditional Andean and Peruvian hand practices of rug making and weaving to create vibrant and abstract textile works.
She uses these labour-intensive practices in order to examine her own cultural identity, in addition to reclaiming a medium that has historically been considered “women’s work.” Working with wall-hanging, sculpture, and installation, Zapata makes playfully tactile works that appear boundless, exuding beyond the constraints of the frame; and in some cases, as in the mentioned installation, visitors are invited to interact with the works under the condition that they are barefoot.
You may also recognise Jayson Musson from his smart, satirical 2010 web series Art Thoughtz, where he talks about contemporary art, race, gender, and pop culture in videos like “How to Be A Successful Artist,”. In addition to his apt cultural critiques of the contemporary art world, Musson is also a highly successful artist in his own right.
Musson produces large-scale paintings composed of Coogi sweaters. Coogi sweaters have long considered a symbol of status in the African-American Hip-Hop community; however, Coogi has always been a white-owned company, originally founded in Australia. Musson incorporates vibrant knit garments to analyse the relationships between high-art vs. craft and intentional vs. found abstraction; but he is most interested in the notions of colonisation and ownership, and the profitability of cultural communities within overarching power structures. Ultimately, his work is about a form of existential disconnection, that even as one retreats into memory in order to counteract the trauma of the present, even these memories are occupied by our enemy.
Another artist working with traditional textiles is American Sheila Hicks, she was one of the first artists to create large-scale textile works which challenge the distinction between sculpture and painting. When she began making these complex sculptured paintings, Minimalism was the pinnacle of high art. Hicks was introduced to the traditional woven fibre works of South America. Adopting these practices widely regarded as “domestic work,” in combination with her fascination for architecture, Hicks created a radical, vibrant body of work ranging from wall hangings to floor-to-ceiling woven columns to piles of plush, abstracted forms that the artist calls “masses of colour.” Although she doesn’t consider herself a master of the craft, Hicks has garnered a name for herself with her breadth of meticulously constructed and awe-inspiring sculptures.
Most known for her knitted assemblages of disparate materials including wool, tree branches, and a variety of found objects, artist Alexandra Bircken revels in the delicacy of the handmade, and the dialogue between natural and synthetic materials. Typically comprised of fabrics and woven materials stretched across structured frameworks, her work appears as a large-scale, off-kilter webs.
Recommended links about the artists.