Last May, the contemporary art-textile platform After & Again made its debut with a crafty installation by Mexican artist Betsabeé Romero inside the Masonic Lodge at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Romero transformed the building's Spanish Renaissance interiors into a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) fantasy – via carved car tires, paper balloons, and glowing skulls hewn from sugar – while showcasing After & Again's first limited edition textile: a pima cotton T-shirt (made in an edition of 200) fitted with hand-tooled copper wings, that required two months of labor for Mexican artisans to embroider with Parisian silk.
‘With Betsabeé, it was the first project and we made a big edition, but with our next projects the craft is even more unbelievable and we want the editions to be more specific, no more than five or ten pieces,' says Diana Atri, who started After & Again with Mexican pop singer Joy Huerta, also known as the fairer half of the Billboard-topping brother-sister duo Jesse & Joy. After her father passed away a few years ago, Atri decided to merge her love of art and her family background in textile manufacturing (her father's company produced denim for Levi’s and Gap), and now she and Huerta are bringing three American artists — Kenny Scharf and the multimedia duo Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe — to Mexico for their next round of collaborations.
After an exploratory trip to Mexico City last summer, Freeman and Lowe decided to make five original hooded and pocketed ponchos that are reversible and based on their iconic towel collages. After cutting and arranging the compositions in their NYC studio, Freeman and Lowe send the towels to artisans in Estado de México, where they are sewn together by hand and trimmed with leather.
‘The technique is very artisanal, you can't even see the thread,’ says Atri. ‘It looks like one piece, but it's a collage.’
Scharf went on his own scouting trip to Oaxaca, where he decided to design a rebozo, the traditional shawl-like textiles used by Mexican women to carry babies or bundles of groceries. ‘Kenny's piece is very interesting because it's a very high-end textile,’ says Atri, explaining that they are devoting one artisan to the project and each piece will take more than six months to create.
‘I was looking at the weaving technique and it was dictating to me what they could and couldn't do so I designed something that I felt was easily applicable,’ says Scharf. ‘Going down to Oaxaca and watching them weave and watching them dye was an amazing education on how the ancient techniques have been handed down for generations.’
As such, his rebozo begins with a cotton ground with a geometric border of Scharfian-Zapotec faces woven in blue silk, while the artist's floral motif will come to life through a third layer of silk embroidery.
‘The thread comes from Paris but then it's being dyed by master artisans in Oaxaca using indigo, cochineal, and squid ink [the colors of Mexican nobility] from the Pacific Ocean,’ explains Atri, who is showcasing the template for the garment in the booth of Honor Fraser Gallery (Scharf's dealer) during the upcoming Zona Maco art fair.
‘To have Justin and Jonah and Kenny on board is a very big thing, it's such a privilege for us to be working with artists of that caliber,’ says Atri. ‘This process is a big learning experience for everyone: the artists learn these traditional techniques, the artisans learn about art, and it all comes together in one piece.’