Knowledge Series student, Daisy May Hudson discusses works from COTTON: Global Threads.
ABDOULAYE KONATE:From Mali. During 90’s shifted his primary focus away from easel painting and often employs textiles in his mixed media installations. Colour is a potent conveyor of meaning, whatever the medium.
Powerful imagery about genocide, but beautifully simplistic. To over complicate the piece would be to desensitise the horrific experience of these wonderful people. He utilises the textile medium in juxtaposition. The piece is soft, carefully arranged and a pleasurable handling experience however this contrasts with the brutal subject matter which seems to play on the conscience of the spectator. He uses textiles as a cultural form of expression that is fundamental to West Africa, of re-establishing a universal voice through a specific and unrivalled cultural heritage. He creates unity through disparate African nations in shared, mutual cultural roots and uses cloth to express political and social views grounded in the familiar and comforting medium of his homeland.
Konate takes a political statement and highlights the tensions between the beautifully organic locally grown and woven cloth and the cheap fibres of the recycled clothing sent to Africa from the West (that make up the floor piece that probably came to the fore through exploitation and immorality). He finds it curious that the West feel compelled to send their clothes at moments of disaster when Africa make the clothes and have some of the best fabrics in the world.
ABOUKAR FOFANA: From Mali. Background as a calligrapher, artist and textile designer. Influenced by ancient African weaving and dyeing techniques to create a solidly contemporary body of work.
L’arbres a Bleus
This is a fantastic piece that deals with the retention of cultural heritage and the struggles of identity. Abstract in the sense that it is based on the shapes and what they represent than the realism of nature. It acts more as a signifier. It acts as a political statement in using organic fibres and natural dyes; he is committed to preserving and revitalizing Mali’s traditions of natural indigo and vegetable dying. It acts almost as a criticism of the standardisation and industrialisation of production, the lost stories and traditions which are so prevalent in African culture. Can we say that without this almost ritualistic and natural humanised production the aura and the value of the material becomes lost in cold hard machinery? This piece invokes imagery of nature and the trees connote ideas of going back to the roots of tradition and culture, comments on the changing nature of the medium.
What do the fruits represent? Acts as a metaphor – materiality and colour proclaiming that it is part of the vegetable world. Re-establishes textiles closely linked relationship with nature. Indigo produces an unimaginable palette of blue shades. No two trees are alike, similar to the realism of nature, that things aren’t produced and repeated but have individuality and that difference should be harnessed and celebrated.
GRACE NDIRITU: Her art, which is a direct quote from Ndiritu is “My art is an attempt to give back what has been taken from those who lack power: their dignity”
The piece addresses the commodification of people and exploitation of the body as a physical, tangible, and disposable maker for others voyeuristic endeavours. It forces the spectator to assess the impact of this way of thinking. These are four videos that use West African fabric, in a sensual and sometimes unnerving way. At times the spectator feels uncomfortable and becomes aware of their own voyeurism.
It relies on the empowerment of the artist, and the tantalisation the voyeur feels. It highlights the tension between what they see, and how they feel about what they see; more importantly what they feel, and how they believe they should feel in society. The eye is lost in the juxtaposing images of sexual eroticism, and forbidden masking. It plays on the position of the artist’s ability to have control in a piece as the spectator feels uncomfortable in the presence of the body, despite Ndiritu having full control over it.
It’s a very empowering piece for women particularly, but it also represents other voiceless sects of society. The aesthetic choices of beautifully, colourful African textile places the piece in context. It also almost hypnotises the spectator with the moving image of the incredibly vibrant material, yet forces the spectator to question what lays underneath the cloth, what is hidden, and what this conjures in the mind. In one image the whole body is hidden, almost suffocated by fabric, and in another the fabric brushes passed the very sexualised image of the thigh, and in some sense we want her to reveal more, yet she is in control of what we see and don’t see. She uses the medium to ask provocative questions of the spectator. Grace Ndiritu states that her purpose as an artist is ‘to rewrite history through the immediacy of Performance Video Art”; essentially to give the voiceless, a voice; and those powerless, power. In this piece, she is entirely in control of her own body and it is the spectator, who is left powerless to the hypnotic and highly introspective images on the screen.
Anne Wilson: Chicago-based visual artist creates sculpture, drawings and performances. Her artwork embraces conceptual ideas and handwork using everyday materials.
Warping the Walk
Despite having contentions with the piece, it is one of my favourites. Firstly I love the contrasting colours, and feeling of infinity when looking at this evocative piece. It is a piece of local industry cloth, collectively produced by Wilson and 78 other experienced weavers. It was woven during another exhibition in Knoxville Museum of Art in Tennessee. It acknowledges the crisis of production as the mills face closure. It was a very conscious effort to retell the ‘story’ if you will of Western Mills that are forced to close down when competing in world markets. Their rocketing prices cannot compete with the exploitative labour of developing countries which is a very sad truth. The films and the finished product are in dialogue with the idea of production. The film reinstates the idea of a back story behind the creation, refusing to allow the piece to be taken as a mere object which is static and without a history. It invokes the idea that actually there was a process behind the production and it is something we shouldn’t forget to do justice to the makers, and to pay homage to those who were exploited for the benefit of Western fashionistas. She creates a new visual arts piece using the warping actions required to produce a woven cloth. The video installations are large, and in some sense quite overwhelming. The pieces were created separately but they work incredibly well together in provoking new ideas regarding the production of materials.
It has been suggested it is a comment on the absence of textile production in North West of England. It tells a global story, a collective of individuals working together to create something beautiful. It emphasises the story of production, consumption and global trade. It reminds us of the impact production had, acting as a catalyst for the industrial revolution. My only criticism is perhaps she could have made a more relevant, politically persuasive comment about the current story of production.