On the Christmas Bank Holiday Monday we took the train into Manchester to visit the Whitworth. It was good to get out of the house and take in a little mental stimulation.
Manchester at one time was Cottonopolis, the capital of the once dominant British cotton industry. Reflecting this, the Whitworth has an important collection of textiles. Appropriately, then the main exhibition currently showing in the Gallery, Art_Textiles “does what it says on the tin” and features works created from textiles.
The exhibition website tells us that
The status of textiles as an art medium is highly ambivalent. Traditionally, they have been situated on the margins, in a borderland between art and craft.
As a medium textile is often used by female artists, which probably part of the reason why textile art is “situated on the margins” – an interesting topic for a thesis, I’m sure someone must have explored this. Notably,the majority, but not all, of the artists featured in the exhibition are women.
The central gallery (the exhibition covers four) is dominated by Abakan Rouge III, by the Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz, came at the end of the artist’s career, between 1970 and 1971, when what she called a “craft ghetto” kept the pieces from being considered fine art. But it is this marginal aspect of textile works that has allowed the medium to be used to express social, political or artistic dissent. And many of the works in the exhibition had a political, often feminist, message.
One work that certainly fits into that category is this example of a Suffragette banner. This was one work of art not intended to sit in a gallery, but to play an active part in the struggle for votes for women.
Suffragette banner for Women’s Freedom League: Dare to be Free (1911) by Miss Burton and Miss Gosling
Facing it were two works by the Egyptian born artist Ghada Amer both with a clear political message.
Nearby was a work by Michele Walker, No Home, No Hope (1994) made from hessian, paper and bin liners, highlighting the plight of the homeless.
employs the human form as a vehicle through painting and sculpture, to explore the construction of identity in a postcolonial South African context, but also attempt to critique stereotypical depictions of women, particularly black women in our society.
The figure of the work, Sophie –Velucia, represents the artist’s mother
weaving a Madam CJ Walker image using synthetic hair. Madam CJ Walker was an African–American who invented hair cream relaxer for straightening hair. My mother used to work as a domestic worker as a teenager and after school worked as a hair stylist in a salon. Sophie-Velucia is looking up to Madam CJ Walker as her icon. For her, she symbolizes a breakthrough from the generations of servitude. The figure is standing about two metres from the woven picture, arms out-stretched, thousands of strands of hair flying to her hands, plaiting and weaving through the canvas.
There were two works by Risham Syed, an artist from Pakistan,which address questions of colonial exploitation and struggle.
All her quilts depict 19th and 20th Century maps of various port cities that were strategically located on colonial European trade routes, such as Izmir in Turkey, Colombo in Sri Lanka, Mumbai in India, and Ras al-Khaimah in the UAE. Apart from being trade gateways, these cities were also sites of resistance and rebellion against the imperial powers. (source)
Not all of the artists featured in the exhibition are women and not all of the political messages are feminist. One of ’Grayson Perry’s series of six tapestries made during the filming of his Channel 4 documentary All in the Best Possible Taste, which we saw at Manchester City Art Gallery a couple of years ago, was hung on the wall across from Mary Sibane’s work.
Paraguayan-born multidisciplinary artist Faith Wilding has recreated her work Crotcheted Environment, better known as Womb Room, originally made in 1972 for the Los Angeles display Womanhouse, for the exhibition.
This large work Homage aux Caseurs du Mandé is by the African artist Abdoulaye Konaté
Jessica Rankin’s Quis Est Iste Qui Venit (2012), an embroidered work on a semi-transparent organdy cloth, hung a few centimetres from the wall casts shadows on the surface behind.
There are two works by Korea artist, Do Ho Suh
Suh Sews over lines in thin washi paper and soaks it until the paper dissolves, leaving the cotton thread, which is then set into the pulp of handmade paper. The thread and the way the thread reacts to the water and the wet paper, creates an unusual quality of line and appearance
Penelope’s Rags (2013) by Monika Zaltauskaite-Grasiene from Lithuania was produced using a state of the art Jaquard loom.
A large work, Flexion 2 (1971) by Jagoda Buić
This large scale exhibition, (there were many more interesting works on display) really showed how textiles can be used as an effective medium for creating beautiful as well as thought provoking works. It was certainly worth travelling over to Manchester on a rather grey and miserable day to see it.