At the Seams un­rav­els homey images of do­mes­tic crafts

The Hamilton Spectator - - A & E - REGINA HAGGO Regina Haggo, art his­to­rian, public speaker, cu­ra­tor and for­mer pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Can­ter­bury in New Zealand, teaches at the Dun­das Val­ley School of Art. dhaggo@thes­pec.com

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.

PHOTOS BY DOU­GLAS HAGGO

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.

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