Subversive stitching: ’Art_Textiles’ at The Whitworth, Manchester

Subversive stitching: ’Art_Textiles’ at The Whitworth, Manchester

A new show at the Whitworth explores how textiles are used as an art medium to highlight social, political and artistic ideas.

Fresh from its MUMA renovation, unveiled earlier this year, Manchester’s Whitworth Gallery is currently playing host to an exhibition of textiles that make the crossover from the realm of craft into fine art. Featuring artists such as Magdalena Abakanowicz, Tracey Emin, Grayson Perry, Ghada Amer and Kimsooja, the new show specifically gathers textiles that have been made to express social, political or artistic ideas – a practice that, as the curators note, has been growing since the 1960s.
Awe-inspiring pieces like Faith Wilding’s web-like Crocheted Environment, otherwise known as ’The Womb Room’, represents the wave of feminist artists who reappropriated traditional domestic crafts to create subtly subversive artworks in the 1970s; while Anne Wilson’s intricately-stitched, damaged damask cloth Dispersions (no. 27) and Ghada Amer’s embroidered Sunset with Words – RFGA demonstrate how contemporary artists continue to be influenced by these early pioneers.

Other art works touch upon politics of identity and nationhood, as well as the value of the handmade in the digital age. For instance, Lawrence Lemaoana’s fabric and embroidery work I Did Not Join The Struggle To Be Poor, is a sign made of the African National Congress flag that reinterprets the much-quoted statement made by former head of communications for the ANC, Smuts Ngonyama, when he was accused of unfair business practices in 2007.

As well as established talents, the show also introduces new names such as Mary Sibande, whose work explores identity in post-apartheid South Africa and stereotypes around the black female body.

Textiles are a powerful medium for the expression of political and social issues that are current right now. They raise questions about the value of the local and global, making them an ideal vehicle to critique global capitalism and homogeneity of production,’ says curator Jennifer Harris. ’Their history and close association with women and domestic crafts exemplify the revival of interest in hand making and the tactile in a super-speed, digital age. And there is a new urgency to feminist issues around the world, making people look again at feminist work made in the 1970s and ‘80s.’

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