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Black female textile artists

I am hoping that everyone who reads this blog post will have had their eyes opened recently to the Black Lives Matter decentralised movement, if not already been aware of it prior to recent, horrific current events as well as right through history. As a tutor I always aim to offer students a real wide range of contextual research offerings and I have realised these past few months that I could definitely do more to work alongside hundreds of other teaching practitioners to try level out the imbalance of the exposure of black creatives within the Arts and Crafts sector through educational settings. I could discuss this at LONG length but in a nutshell; I am passionate about artists and craftspeople from all walks of life being equally and fairly represented, we have so much to learn from one another. 

This post will focus on three incredible Black female artists who create exciting, contemporary and thought-provoking work using traditional textile techniques. 

I was first drawn to Butler’s work last year after being immediately awestruck with her vivid and bold colour palette. Butler’s work explores and visually translates narratives within stories of Black women and men; a celebration of achievements and experiences. She uses a quilting technique to patchwork the images using African fabrics and a hand pieced technique taught to her by her Grandmother to tell stories and capture ‘ordinary people’. 

In her artist statement, she begins to explain, “My community has been marginalised for hundreds of years. While have been right beside our white counterparts experiencing and creating history, our contributions and perspectives have been ignored, unrecorded and lost. It is only a few years ago that it was acknowledges that the White house was built by slaves. Right there in the seat of power of our country African Americans were creating and contributing while their names were lost to history.” 

Her pieces are 1:1 scale too, so life size, and I personally think this just adds to the visual impact that they make. I love how she translates a story through her craft and seeks to abolish the inequality of Black communities. 

I have long coveted a quilt created by the late Amelia Bennett. If you ever wish to see a good example of colour proportion and composition then please do research into her pieces; each one is perfectly balanced in terms of shape, colour hues and pattern. Whilst I find some of the fabric patterns not to my personal taste in terms of their motifs, I actually find the overall 1950/60s aesthetic very descriptive of the socio-economic factors of that time and reflect how and where they were made; through a community of neighbours sitting on their porches, quilting to pass the time away in a gentle and relaxed way using scraps of old bedding and clothing. I really love older textiles for this reason- whilst I might not visually love it straight away, I love a piece of fabric to tell me a story and take me back to its place of origin. We can also learn so much from the smallest details on lace structure, or print motifs, fabric fibre content- an old handkerchief for example can tell us way more than what first meets the eye. 

I absolutely love the colour and patterns created within Xenobia Bailey’s work. Most often working in knit and crochet, Bailey is a multidisciplinary artist exploring African and Asian philosophies, but with a deep underpinning of a 1970s funk aesthetic.  One particular piece that I admire, is the giant mosaic, Funktional Vibrations (2014) , that she created for 469th subway in New York (third image). I think that this is such as good example of how designs can be translated through scale and media choice, here we have crochet into glass, but I also cannot imagine how much joy this would bring to the commuters each day! 

Please find below a link to an interview with Bisa Butler; it’s only short but very interesting, and you can see some her meticulous work up close. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNo8jwfCpIY

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Posted by author: Faye Hall
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13 thoughts on “Black female textile artists

  • I’ve never heard of these artists before, so thank you for the introduction. I also love Mary Sibande’s work which I saw at the beginning of this year-another artist I hadn’t heard of before. It’s so important we celebrate black artists and I hope they will soon be recognised in the way they should be.

  • Thank you for highlighting the importance of diversity within our research and sharing the fabulous work of these artists. I’ve always been drawn to textiles from different cultures because they are usually so much more colourful and have intricate patterns. I love the soft crochet behind the hard glass, such a great combination and juxtaposition of textiles. I’m so drawn to Bisa Butler’s work and am grateful for your introduction to this. She is definitely an artist to keep on my reference list.

  • Loved the Bisa Butler portraits. If any of you want some bedtime reading I can recommend ‘The Last Runaway’ by Tracy Chevalier. It has many themes: the Quaker culture in nineteenth century USA; abolition of salvery; the adventure of migration. Quilts were clearly a big deal in those days and each chapter is named after a style of quilt. Very readable.

  • Thanks for this interesting post, Faye. The work of Xenobia Baile is so joyous, makes me smile. I also note that she has found a brilliant way to work with multiples, something that I find I am very interested in to ‘grow’ larger pieces in a small scale ‘studio’ setting.

  • Thank you very much for bringing these three artists into the light. What fantastic artists they are. I’d never heard of them before.
    Great post.
    Great introduction to the post. xx

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