Unravel the stories woven into a selection of textiles, created by women across the globe
The latest exhibition by The Women’s Art Collection (formerly New Hall Art Collection), What Lies Beneath: Women, Politics, Textiles, on display at Murray Edwards College until late August, reveals how female textile makers and artists have used their craft to weave identity, construct a sense of community, and bring about political action in a range of contexts around the world.
What Lies Beneath is a celebration of traditional crafts – from appliqué to knitting, quilting, rug-hooking, collage and fabric-painting. Skills that have been passed down from one generation of women to the next, from mother to daughter or in sewing groups. The works on display in this temporary exhibition speak of a rich heritage of textile making that has unfolded over centuries and across different continents. The exhibition includes pieces from The Women’s Art Collection by Miriam Schapiro, Permindar Kaur and Francisca Aninat, alongside major loans from artists and galleries. There are also contemporary textile works by Nengi Omuku, Anya Paintsil and Enam Gbewonyo, which fuse traditional and experimental techniques. Important works from the 20th century also feature, including Nicola L’s Nous Voulons Voir, taking the form of a political banner bearing the humorous, yet sinister slogan ‘we want to see’. There’s a quilt by Stella Mae Pettway of the Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers, a group of women in a remote African American community in Alabama that make quilts, often for practical purposes, but which hold exceptional beauty.
Works offer commentary on society in its various forms
The works offer a commentary on society in its various forms, from identity to politics, encompassing issues such as gender, race and class. For example, The Tejedoras de Mampuján, winners of the Colombian National Peace Prize, document human rights abuses through collaboratively sewed pieces, while Anya Paintsil aims to elevate craft-based practices associated with women of colour and working-class women. Textiles have been used as a covert form of activism and protest, centuries before women had a public political voice, says curator Naomi Polonsky. “In the 1970s, embroidery and knitting were central to second-wave feminism’s takedown of traditional, male-dominated art institutions. A couple of decades later – in the 1990s – ‘craftivism’ (craft activism) emerged out of the protests against globalisation and capitalism,” she explains. “This same form of resistance exists now within online and social media culture. When everything is mass-produced and commoditised, people want to get back to doing things with their hands. Women are consciously choosing to align themselves within a history of female labour and skill.”
What Lies Beneath offers the opportunity to unpick aspects of history, politics and cultural identity from a distinctly female perspective, tracing back threads through time and place and from generation to generation. The exhibition occupies the Lower Fountain Court of Murray Edwards College and is open to the public from 10am to 6pm, every day of the week.
To find out more, or to take the virtual tour, visit The Women’s Art Collection’s website.