For millennia, the art of textiles has dwelt within the sphere of craft. Soft gossamer thread meticulously woven, netted, and spun into a series of delightful possessions designed to beautify and protect. If we ever choose to dwell upon a piece of cloth, be it the fiercely patterned Ajrak fashioned by local artisans, a gem bright kimono, or even a child’s favorite blanket, our minds would linger and may remain stuck on its aesthetics and functionality. However, we may fail to realize the sheer majesty of the medium behind the purpose and its potential to create.
Curated by Samina Islam, ‘The Thread Unraveled’ at VM Art Gallery celebrates the medium in its entirety. A group of eleven local and international artists come together to investigate this ancient art within a contemporary context; divorced from any cultural, decorative, or functional restraints, the realm of fiber is explored in its rawest form.
Amy Meissner contests undertones of superficiality, ornamentation, and feminized domesticity associated with hand stitching by juxtaposing the traditional craft with jarring visuals. ‘Scrub Harder’— sewn next to pristinely stitched blood stains on a found object— evokes a narrative involving the hyper-fetishized female form and the inherent unease experienced in a voyeuristic society. Samina Islam comprehends the female being as an intrinsic form of strength. The artist navigates the complications of existing in a harshly patriarchal society with her imagery. Perhaps this complexity is characterized with the thick curtains of net, through which women make way, taking charge of their fate despite a multitude of difficulties. The stitching over the photography provides a decadent three-dimensional texture.
Asad Hussain amalgamates the mediums of textile and sculpture: His process is strongly led by research, with ideas transforming till the very end. The contrasting materials and vivid colors provide a multisensory experience and exist in a constant mode of change, altering as the wind, light, and shadows shift. Lyndsey McDougall, on the other hand, questions the meaning of a landscape through painstaking hand embroidery, exploring symbols which are found naturally as well as brought forth through manmade civilizations. The visual relationship between the two comes across as dreamlike and wistful.
Rosie James’ body of work is motivated by periods of intense observation. The artist scrutinizes and documents large crowds, which are later transformed into delicate drawings and sewn onto translucent cloth. Phantomlike and evocative, the sensitivity of the string reveals a series of flimsy— otherwise invisible— details that inevitably cause the works to hum with life. Sue Stone, on the other hand, chooses to traverse the past: exploring familial narratives, Stone embraces the relationships visually through her nostalgic body of work. With different forms of stitching applied, the work is texturally rich and stirring.
Numair Abbasi creates narratives through the use of cloth and the male form (two highly organic forms) questioning the sociocultural prejudices associated with the male sex. In his work, Abbasi investigates the ‘shalwar kurta’ as a costume and its complex, vastly varying relationship with the male community. Narratives also play a significant role in the art of Masuma Hilai, who works with textiles and embroidery, rich with their own personal histories, juxtaposing certain materials and severing others to create original artworks heavy with a phantom history while ultimately claiming a new identity.
Roohi Ahmed probes the fluid intricacies of the human experience in a deteriorating society. Ahmed’s work is largely spontaneous, propelled by the material which in turn shaped her experience. The artist immersed herself in a situation that allowed her to comprehend the artless continuity which underlies human existence. In contrast, Richard McVetis works in a scrupulous fashion, exploring themes of space, form, and time through elaborate embroidery. The artist undergoes methods of repetition through which he observes and therefore documents the passage of time. Manica Musil explores personal fantastical worlds and creates charming illustrations with expressive characters. Musil employs a multitude of techniques in her body of work which allow her to create in a variety of different ways.
The medium of textile offers a plethora of possibilities: From sculptures to installations to two-dimensional drawings, the artists utilize textiles to embody a vast array of distinct themes and ideas, truly breaking away from the rigid limitations associated with this material in the past.