Unravelling narratives

March 14, 2024

London’s Barbican Art Gallery is hosting an exhibition that aims to convey the potent messages in work by international textile makers. Denna Jones shines a light on some of the artworks and their relationship to the world around them

Many of the works in Unravel: The Power and Politics of Textiles in Art at the Barbican Art Gallery record and demand societal structural change. All explore the power and potential of textiles and fibres. Unravel features more than 100 artworks by fifty artists from around the globe (many have been featured in COVER magazine). Established names such as Yinka Shonibare, Tracey Emin, Sheila Hicks, Faith Ringgold, Cecilia Vicuña, Louise Bourgeois are together with the less well-known, emerging artists, and artists whose work will benefit from the ‘recentering’ mission of Shanay Jhaveri, the Centre’s new head of visual arts.

The Coral Reef Preservation Society 2019 Tau Lewis Courtesy the artist and Night Gallery Los Angeles

Organised under six themes—‘Subversive Stitch’, ‘Fabric of Everyday Life’, ‘Borderlands’, ‘Bearing Witness’, ‘Wound and Repair’ and ‘Ancestral Threads’— Unravel ’s timeline begins in the 1960s. All the artworks merit close attention. But a few that command attention include Tau Lewis, The Coral Reef Preservation Society (2019); the astonishing encrusted embroidery Heideveld (2021) by Igshaan Adams; Blood in the Grass (1966) by Hannah Ryggen, who used fibre to denigrate the ‘cowboy’ war criminality of American President Lyndon B Johnson; and Feliciano Centurión’s poignant embroidered emotions that reflect his life with HIV, but didn’t prevent him embroidering ‘Estoy vivo!’ (‘I am alive!’), a defiance demonstrated by many artists in Unravel. Read the full article in our new issue, COVER 74.

Gebedelswolke Prayer Clouds 20212024 Igshaan Adams Courtesy the artist and blank projects Cape Town

Family Treasures 1993 Sheila Hicks

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