At the Seams unravels homey images of domestic crafts
Nine female artists share an interest in traditional women’s work such as sewing, embroidery, weaving and making clothes. Their task? To transform these domestic crafts into works of art.
The artists also share a common heritage: African-North American. Some live and work in Canada, others in the United States.
Their creations are on show in At the Seams, a striking exhibition at the Grimsby Public Art Gallery. The exhibition includes fibre, video and installation art. Expectations and stereotypes fall apart at the seams.
From a distance, Sonya Clark’s “Plain Weave” looks like a fabric wall-hanging. Plain weave is a term used to describe a basic style of weave in cloth.
Clark’s textured tapestry comprises small black compartments highlighted with either vertical golden lines or horizontal coppery ones. The two types of compartments alternate, an arrangement that recalls designs found in Ashanti kente cloth, a traditional African cloth. In Ashanti-Kente colour coding, black suggests spiritual energy.
Up close, however, our initial impression of cloth unravels. The wall-hanging is in fact made from layers of identical black combs — 1,104 of them — threaded together in back-to-back pairs. Each compartment contains 12 combs.
Clark, who lives and works in Richmond, Va., loves combs and the kind of things they create. Hair dressing is, she believes, an art form. Like a work of art, a hairstyle is a mode of self-expression and racial identity.
Simone Aziga, a Toronto artist, makes art from damaged fabric.
“How I Got Over” consists of two pink shapes suspended from the ceiling, one above the other. They recall parts of an ultrafeminine skirt or dress, layered with tulle, like a ball gown or a bridesmaid’s or ballerina’s dress.
But the outfit is torn and messy; therefore, it’s not very feminine. Threads hang down and spill on the floor. Paint has stained and hardened the fabric.
Moreover, the skirt is pierced with safety pins and straight pins. Pins are meant to hold the seams together temporarily. Is the dress unfinished? Or has it been torn apart in an act of violence, or rebellion, and someone has tried to fix it?
Another work by Aziga, “You know they know ...” looks similarly damaged. Three fragmented pink dresses, stained and stiffened with white paint, pierced with pins, hang on the gallery wall like flayed bodies.
Violence and beauty also take centre stage in Erika De Freitas’s “so buried in it ...” The Toronto artist offers a series of embroidered panels. Each cotton panel boasts a tiny piece of embroidery. The embroidery incorporates threads of many colours to create an exquisite abstracted shape. The rest of the white panel is unworked.
Embroidery is stereotypically associated with feminine leisure done in peaceful settings. But De Freitas’s source of inspiration belies this stereotype. She documents moments of violence and sudden death. Her embroidered forms are based on images of bodies at crime scenes covered in blankets or tarps.
The other equally strong contributions come from Julia Brown, Danielle Dean, Tamara Huxtable, Megan Morgan, Olivia Neal and Dionne Simpson.
Simone Aziga, “How I Got Over,” mixed media including fabric, safety pins, straight pins and paint.
Sonya Clark, “Plain Weave,” mixed media including black combs.
Erika De Freitas, “So buried in it that we only see them when pulled out in abstractions,” embroidery on cotton panels.