International Contemporary Textile Artists- Researching Meaningful Narratives in Textiles

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Poland: “White Relief”, 1066, linen, cotton, sisal; from the collection of the Central Museum of Textiles inŁódź; photo Beatrijs Sterk. Magdalena Abakanowicz (1930-2017) opposed with full force a literal, overly exact interpretation of her ideas, believing that the work of art has the right to retain a secret, even mysticism. She continued to experiment intensively with materials, form, texture, with the investigation of the interplay between art and the environment, she opposed their inclusion in any specific frames, styles of movements.

Magdalena Abakanowicz remains one of my favourite textile artists who worked in large scale using weave and sisal to create textile sculptures of biomorphic forms. Creating through using her own weaving techniques brought the material to life. Found materials were often used as she collected sisal ropes from harbours, intertwining them into threads and dying them. She also used “rope, hemp, flax, wool and horsehair to create and construct uniquely using the traditional wool and linen for weaving, but also introducing in places “clusters” of threads and textures alongside slits and splits. Magdalena Abakanowicz explained her approach as follows: “I started to weave [..] to create a real art from weaving, to give the fabric a different meaning, sparing all habits and experiences. I wanted to remove weaving from any application, create an independent object. I have succeeded in doing this: completely useless, non-utilitarian forms, not fabric…”

During the 1960s and 70s, this textiles artist created such radical sculptures from woven fibre called Abakans which represented three dimensions, recalling bodily appendages and female genitalia. They were soft not hard; ambiguous and organic; towering works that hung from the ceiling and pioneered a new form of installation. Magdalena Abakanowicz was dubbed by Christie’s as the ‘godmother of installation art’. With these works she brought soft, fibrous forms into a new relationship with sculpture which heralded a range of new ways for creating using textiles to process, confront and make known past trauma.

Magdalena Abakanowicz View of the Magdalena Abakanowicz exhibition at the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź with the” Abakan Brown IV“, 1965–1984 to the left; photo Beatrijs Sterk. Part one of this major retrospective of textile works by Magdalena Abakanowicz (1930 – 2017) was held at the Central Museum of Textiles in Łódź, Poland, from 30 November to 1 April 2018

Since the early 80s Abakanowicz mostly worked in sculpture. Practically her only motif was abstracted human figures and their groups, also isolated heads, hands, or fragments of separate body-parts. For her art “was simply a universal tale of human condition”, outside particular time, about “Man as such”. The connection of Magdalena Abakanowicz’s sculpture with archaic art forms and interest in existential questions of the human condition is undeniable, suggested by the artist’s phrase: “I keep working on the same old story, one as old as existence itself, I keep talking about it, about the fears, disappointments and longings that it brings along.

Magdalena Abakanowicz (2006) Agora – 106 cast iron figures / H 9 ft. each / weighing eleven hundred pounds each/ created in Poland. Location: Grant Park, intersection of S. Michigan Ave. and Roosevelt Road, Chicago. Agora is a Greek word for “meeting place”.
Sonia Navarro, Spain: “Fieltro Rojo I y II”, 2012; 195 x 112 cm; sewn felt , wool and fabric; photo Beatrijs Sterk

Sonia Navarro is one of the best-known textile artists in Spain. From ‎Murcia she has exhibited widely including the Verónicas room in Murcia and she has used such opportunities to communicate. ‎‎Sonia Navarro‎‎ has been vocal through her art, of being responsible for breaking this silence with her compositions, her patterns, her stitches, and her reflection on gender, on the rural environment and on a craft in which identity resides. The challenge has not been easy, because of the desacralized conventual church which offers “a space that if you neglect dominates you”, as pointed out by the curators of related exhibitions, ‎‎ Boundaries, Road, Memorial.‎‎ ‎‎María de Corral and Lorena Martínez de Corral,‎‎two other women who have accompanied the artist in this conquest of exhibiting within the Veronicas room, of using the monumental space to espouse what they want to say.  Sonia Navarro stated “Such exhibitions cannot be prepared in a few months, not even in a few years; it is the result of a whole trajectory, of living by and for art.‎

‎The artists exhibition works – in which the artist dresses the space and establishes a dialogue with the architecture of a room that is the ‘flagship’ of the exhibition spaces of Murcia – are inspired by the household work of women in the rural environment and value artisan work because, as the artist maintains, “a country without craftsmanship is a country without identity”. They are the fruit of twenty years of working in the same direction, which is none other than “that of my truth, of what I wanted to tell, regardless of fashions; I’ve always done what I needed to do,” explains Navarro, who highlights the work with Blanca’s Esparto de Mujeres, without which it would have been impossible to make some of the pieces. Esparto also symbolizes respect and care for the land. ‎

Considering the impossibility of movement and the housework traditionally performed by women as the driving force of her art, the materials she uses are thread, needles, fabrics, and anything related to sewing. The latest works have entailed a process in which the city and freedom have a strong presence, expressed through media such as sculpture, installation, photography, and drawing. She creates pieces that challenge and confront the mechanisms and institutions of power, especially those that have helped to shape the historical gender hierarchy, exploring the female reality in the rural world, and reflecting on the constant struggle of women and established patterns.

Sonia Navarro (2015) Route Collections 5-Oral Memories, 190×180 cm, felt collage is thread

Thus, through the use of‎‎ esparto, fabrics, strings, felt and lights -suspended on the walls or hung from the balconies of the room-, Sonia Navarro creates woven compositions, volumes, contrasts of colours and enveloping atmospheres. So, for example, the ‎‎Thread of Light‎‎ that you draw patterns in the space of the altar stands out, solving brilliantly – never better said – the challenge presented by this area of the room. At the same time, in addition to the wall work, the artist has dressed the balconies with other pieces of sewn felt, with which she again demonstrates who is in charge in the space.‎ ‎‎The curators, ‎‎María de Corral and Lorena Martínez de Corral,‎‎ maintain for their part that “we have only accompanied Sonia on a path that she has been very clear from the beginning, in that it is the memory of her childhood, of her home, of her history“. They also highlight the elaboration of a catalogue in which it has been known to reflect the essence of the exhibition, from how it is sewn, the slit of the cover as a pattern and the colours used, blacks, ochres and a gold that is repeated in the work exposed.‎ The use of stitch predominates throughout her work and exhibition space which appears to hold the narrative together. Indeed “the artist rescues the past, sewing it, weaving history. The curators noted in this interwoven dialogue between her work and the Sala Verónicas, Sonia Navarro has emerged victorious. The powerful architecture is the great support, the way for the viewer to enter the installation and enjoy the different routes and speeches that it offers us”.

Redacción C’Mon Murcia‎‎ ‎‎(10 February 2020‎) The artist Sonia Navarro inaugurates the new season of the Sala Verónicas‎
Sonia Navarro (2019) Use of Exhibition Space for her large-scale artwork-felt collage and thread
Sonia Navarro (2012) Grafts, 190×180 cm, felt collage and thread used to communicate narrative
Textile Photography architecture exhibition Sonia Navarro‎
Anneke Klein, Netherlands (2019) The City’s Social Newspaper – a Sustainable Society in Words and Patterns; woven, stitched; cotton, linen, silk. The 8th International Biennial of Contemporary Textile Art WTA

Anneke Klein Kranenbarg (Krommenie 1961) is a visual artist. She lives and works in Amersfoort, The Netherlands. She has been exhibiting her artwork in museums throughout Europe, including the Moscow Museum of Modern Art, Russia, the Museum of Modern Art Hünfeld, Germany and the Mobil Madi Museum in Budapest, Hungary.

For Anneke Klein Self-expression through weaving experimentation which came about through wrestling with cold hard materials during my education as a goldsmith. She then chose the warmth, softness, and comfort of yarns and retrained in weaving techniques. Using basic weaving techniques she creates a variety of shapes, textures, and structures. It is an ever-growing experiential process, an investigation, a translation, as if looking through a symbolic lens at the everyday and the things that touch her emotionally. Given her fascination for rhythm and repetitions and working with a variety of materials and colours and with a love for simplicity, shape, and activity, she has developed unique processes and ways of working which creates both one-off wearables and spatial creations often with a combination between form and function. For her creative practice is a sensual experience through an interaction between person and material to achieve an almost tangibility to the space in between. Her objects are an interplay between the woven structure and the unforeseen additions and/or manipulation of the material which then shows an emotional content and causes a reaction. Which is often fuelled by a social impact with its authority and fragility.

Anneke Klein (2019) The City’s Social Newspaper – a Sustainable Society in Words and Patterns; woven, stitched; cotton, linen, silk. The 8th International Biennial of Contemporary Textile Art WTA
Anneke Klein (2019) Experimental use of materials through relationship with weaving and thread
Anneke Klein (2019) Experimental use of materials through relationship with weaving and thread
Anneke Klein (2019) Experimental use of materials through relationship with weaving and thread
Malou Zryd, Switzerland: Without title, 2017/ 2019; 150 x 160 cm; stitching; metal and polyester thread; recovered fabrics

Malou Zryd, textile artist has developed her creative practice and material experience in Switzerland and Japan, in the field of ceramics, calligraphy and the manufacture of paper and felt.‎ ‎From an early age, a bond was forged with tissue and yarn. Trained in textile techniques, Malou Zryd first produced, in collaboration, jewellery and clothing, before devoting himself, in 2008, to her own creative process as an independent artist.‎ ‎She invents with textiles a completely new language, mixing delicacy and powerful vibrations, which brings her expression closer to painting, writing and sculpture. The common thread of a quest for identity emerges with force in his journey and in the evolution of his works.‎

Malou Zryd, Switzerland: Without title, 2017/ 2019; 200 x 300 cm; stitching; metal and polyester thread; recovered fabrics

“Malou Zryd’s work unfolds in series: wide expanses created using squares of fabric interwoven with metal threads; samurai suits of armour in ghostly moiré that hold their shape without their wearers; antique night shirts, wise and motionless, stretched out like canvases on frames.  This is work that combines technical virtuosity and depth of meaning.  Work that ranges from the figurative to the “geometric”.  And behind deceptively simple interpretations, there is a common and innervating thread: patch and revive discarded fabrics, redirect them, surrender to their memories and their whisperings in a renewal that brings together all the strands of the multiple identities of this Swiss artist of Korean origin.” Florence Grivel, 2016.

“From introspection to recognition of other cultures, she creates something universal in these very personal pieces.  There is reflection on space and time – two concepts tightly bound by an intrinsic relationship but also present in any undertaking of creation/filiation. The needle pierces the fabric as it would pierce a world to be deconstructed and reinvented thread after thread, even though the initial pattern remains as proof of an otherness in perpetual ending.  The past meets the present through her use of thread which creates a new unified entity. To reconstruct the fragments of a past in disguise, to ripen by experiencing the passage of time while also recalling memories of times gone by to creating pieces of art with meaning and reverence to the materials provonence.

Maria Jesus Manzanares Serrano, Spain (2018) ”Lecho de vida”, (Lifebed) Detail, 163 x 150 cm; mixed cotton mattress fabrics

Maria Jesus Manzanares Serrano uses painting, sculpture, installation, drawing, photography, textile art and other art forms to fully express herself creatively and to communicate what she has to say. She communicates a sombre and exhilarating path from past to the present, in which she has incorporated feelings of bonding, nostalgia and conflict, transforming the exhibition space itself. Her creations are like an explicit homage to all the creative women who, from the domestic anonymity or artistic capacity, have worked to express their feelings through showing and exhibiting their creative processes and work. Painting, sculpture, installation, drawing, photography, and textile art are some of the means with which she has been working for a long time. Her interventions Nómadas(Nomads) at Foro Sur or Tripas Corazón(Bite the Bullet) at the Plaza de Abastos of Plasencia can help to understand her approach to all her works as she creates a sense of walking on this path back and forth from places, people and experiences that, despite being absent, are present.

The canvases sewn with linen, tow and cotton fabrics are perhaps those elements of her work in which the milestones of her aesthetic journey are best recognised: memories, introspection, roots, and other ties experienced. Through the installations she has performed with embroidered drawings on canvas and paper, and her exhibitions of artwork made with sewn up sacks, pieces of wool, soap, cork, photographs, and dresses, she pursues the transformation and revival of the exhibition space itself, nourished by the time and the emotions that her works emanate. Her creations are like an explicit homage to all the creative women who, from the domestic anonymity or artistic capacity, have worked to clean up various spaces and fill them with feelings. The artist stated “I am interested in the potential character of materials, which are not yet determined in defined and finished realities, the fact that they can become and transform into what they themselves do not know they can be. It is like the magic of motherhood and the material”. The selection of processes and materials determine in themselves a way of creating. Sheep wool, soap, cork, embroidery, fabrics, collages, found objects, photographs, sewn drawings, canvases or patched shirts are some of those materials.  Experimentation, trial, and error is intrinsic in the search for a way to do and say to build a coherent speech.

Maria Jesus Manzanares Serrano, Spain Costal I y II (2019) ‎flax. 180 x 60 cm.‎ ‎The paintings sewn from linen fabrics, and cottons are perhaps the part of her work in which the milestones of her aesthetic journey are best recognized: memory, introspection, roots, and other sensed bonds.‎
Mrinalini Mukherjee, India (2019) Installation view of Phenomenal Nature, at The Met Breuer. All images courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Phenomenal Nature marks the first retrospective of the artist in the United States. The exhibition brings together fifty-seven works by Mukherjee and explores the artist’s longstanding engagement with fibre, along with her significant forays into ceramic and bronze towards the middle and latter half of her career.

Mrinalini Mukherjee attended Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda (now called Vadodara, located in Gujarat), and began experimenting with hemp yarn in 1971. A recent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art demonstrated her significant range, including works that conjured tapestries, theatrical costumes, and Armor. The works, with their larger-than-life presence and vibrant threads in shades of magenta and rust, command attention and present weaving as a formidable, heroic process and language. Mukherjee’s creations are appropriately epic, given that they were inspired by mythology. With a career spanning four decades from the 1970s to 2000s, Indian sculptor Mrinalini Mukherjee created huge organic and anthropomorphic forms inspired by plants, blossoms, the body and seated and standing deities, unlike any other artist in her generation. Using hemp and jute ropes hand-dyed in murky natural greens, blues and purples, her laborious process involved knotting to create three-dimensional structures and folds – almost entirely without preparatory sketches – that were often taller than the human body. Myth, folklore, and sexuality recur through her textile sculptures, as does a sense of decay. Despite exhibiting all over the world, Mukherjee was not nearly as famous as she should have been during her lifetime, but a posthumous retrospective at The Met Breuer in 2019 has since propelled her to rightful international recognition.

Mrinalini Mukherjee (2000) Jauba Tate Exhibition: Retrospective of the Artists Collections

Often when we think about textiles, craftwork and utility come to mind. This connotation is largely attributed the medium’s rich history across a variety of cultures, from the monumental, decorative medieval European unicorn tapestries woven from wool and silk thread; to the Kente fabrics of 17th century Ashanti weavers in present-day Ghana; to Peruvian woven rugs and tapestries of the Quechua tradition, dating back as early as 2500 B.C. An integral part of community and daily life, textile fabrication has historically provided people with shelter, costuming, decoration, protection, and comfort; and has also been used to document and express narrative.

Mrinalini Mukherjee (1977) Ritu Raja Tate Exhibition: Retrospective of the Artists Collections

In an age of rapid consumption, production, destruction and isolation, several contemporary artists are veering towards handmade practices which take time, patience, and are often experienced communally through a slow process to creating and making. Whether incorporating ready-made found textiles into a work or meticulously creating their own, textile artists are increasingly finding ways to communicate their preferred narrative through their artwork, the materials they use and their relationship with these materials as well as through regularly exhibiting to be known and what they have to say to be heard and responded to and with.  


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