Surface Design Association Zoom Webinar-Holding Space: Breaking Barriers through Curation

Friday 5th November 2021

Surface Design Association Zoom Webinar-Holding Space: Breaking Barriers through Curation is a virtual panel featuring three curators whose works explore themes of identity, culture, representation, and decolonisation. Curation Work of Kendra Greendeer.

Holding Space: Breaking Barriers through Curation is a virtual panel featuring three curators whose works explore themes of identity, culture, representation, and decolonisation. Often utilising fibre and textiles, their projects push the limits of curatorial practice within and beyond institutional settings. Speakers included Rikki Byrd, Kendra Greendeer and John Chaich. The event was moderated by Diana N’Diaye and organised by SDA’s Equity, Access, and Integration Committee. Holding Space celebrates, educates, and encourages conversation with the intent of building a healthy, active, and diverse fibre community to drive change. This event was held in partnership with Textile Arts, Los Angeles.

Diana N’Diaye Senior Curator and Cultural Heritage Specialist @Smithsonian Centre for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Dr Diana Baird N’Diaye is a Senior Curator and Cultural Heritage Specialist at the Smithsonian’s Centre for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and a Fellow of the American Folklore Society. She is also a studio artist and designer working primarily in textiles. N’Diaye currently directs three Smithsonian living cultural heritage Initiatives: The African American Craft Initiative, the Crafts of African Fashion, and the Will to Adorn: African American Style and the Aesthetics of Identity. The latter is the subject of an upcoming book. She is co-author of Curatorial Conversations: Reflections on the Folklife Festival, awarded the 2017 Smithsonian Secretary’s Research Prize, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Centre for Craft.

Installation photo of Rikki Byrd’s curated show Behold, Be Held on view at the Block Museum of Art and Youth & Opportunity United, Inc., Evanston, IL April – August 2021

Rikki Byrd Curator, PhD Candidate @Baltimore Museum of Art

Rikki Byrd is a writer, educator and curator, with research interests in black studies, performance studies, fashion studies and art history. Her research has been published in several academic journals, books and exhibition catalogues. She has also written for Teen Vogue, Artsy, and Hyperallergic, among several other media outlets. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in African American Studies at Northwestern University, where her research focuses on the way clothing and textiles are used in performances of mourning across the black diaspora. She is also a curatorial research assistant at Baltimore Museum of Art. Rikki Byrd focused upon new ways of curating, to look to understand, to involve to engage, to use her lived experiencing within the curatorial processes, of representing her own ideology through the artists narrative of black women from the south. Rikki Byrd said she draws upon what she sees and responds with through the black identity.

Kendra Greendeer Collections Manager @Little Eagle Arts Foundation

Kendra Greendeer is a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and descendant of the Red Cliff and Fond du Lac Bands of Lake Superior Ojibwe, she is a Ph.D. candidate in Art History with a focus on contemporary Native women artists, the transformation of spaces, and decolonial museum practices. She is currently the Collections Manager for Little Eagle Arts Foundation, a Ho-Chunk run non-profit in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. She earned her B.F.A. in Museum Studies from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and M.A. in Art and Museum Studies from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
Kendra Greendeer (Ho-Chunk), reflected upon prior curation involving Dakota Mace (Diné), and Molli Pauliot (Ho-Chunk). She discussed Indigenous craft and gender roles reflected within Jeffrey Gibson’s work. This included the cross-cultural use of Indigenous designs, the use of traditional and contemporary materials, and pan-Indianism referring to identity and gender.

Kendra Greendeer curating Three Native Women on Like a Hammer, The madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

Indigenous scholars Kendra Greendeer (Ho-Chunk) and Dakota Mace (Diné) co-curated a series of exhibitions exploring material interrelationships among cultures with long histories of exchange throughout the Americas. From the Andes to the Great Lakes, textiles reflect cultural narratives of community and tradition. This exhibit analysed select textiles from the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection and the Little Eagle Arts Foundation, a Ho-Chunk arts organization, to provide a deeper understanding of the lifeways, movement, and stories of these objects. It is through these intersections that scholars can trace Native cultural practices and oral traditions throughout the western hemisphere. Kendra Greendeer acknowledged a broad usage of curation, of caring for collections to communicate a history of place within traditional and contemporary arts. For Kendra Greendeer she saw curation as maintaining and communicating collections, of ensuring and making such collections culturally relevant to what is being exhibited, of the narrative being clearly understood. Kendra Greendeer felt that she was maintaining space for others to see and comprehend, to have objects convey more agency especially through understanding the story they tell.
Kendra Greendeer noted that Radio Chipstone was a series curated by Art Historian Gianofer Fields. The focus was on Material Culture which was not the study of the history of objects but the study of history through objects. So, objects, including clothing, was discussed as a prior display on the UW-Madison Campus in the Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery in Nancy Nicholas Hall. This exhibit was entitled Intersections: Indigenous Textiles of the Americas.

Image: Installation view of the exhibition Intersections: Indigenous Textiles of the Americas (2019) in the Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery at the School of Human Ecology, UW-Madison. Photograph © Andy Manis; shared by the Centre for Design and Material Culture. Part 1 co-curated by indigenous scholars Kendra Greendeer and Dakota Mace.

According to this curator, when they first proposed the idea of the exhibit, they approached it in a way that a lot of other museums and galleries would display indigenous objects, categorising them date, region or material. However, Kendra Greendeer believed using traditional Western and European standards diminished the meaning behind each piece in the exhibition. So, they decided to start the exhibition by honouring their ancestors. They acknowledged their own history, elders and the people that came before them. Those who inspired them creatively, as well as the way weaving has transitioned within the last thousand years.

Angela Hennessy (2020) Black Rainbow, Exhibited in Queer Threads, Curious Spaces, curated by John Chaich

John Chaich Independent Curator, Visiting Instructor @Pratt Institute

John Chaich is an independent curator based in New York City interested in materiality, identity, and communication. He has organized solo and group exhibitions that have travelled worldwide. With Todd Oldham, he is co-editor of the artbook, Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community. He holds an MFA in Communications Design from Pratt Institute, where he is a visiting instructor. His reflections were inspiring, of his starting point of holding space to best present and to support artists and their artwork, of the increased significance of relationship building within his curatorial processes. John Chaich spoke eloquaintly concerning seeking space and making space from what others including artists have to say through their art, to amplify the voices of the makers and artists whereby he is completely informed by his LGBTQ background to connect with the space.

Excerpts from Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community by John Chaich and Todd Oldham

For John Chaich, Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community shone a spotlight on an international, intergenerational, intersectional mix of thirty artists who were remixing fibre craft traditions, such as crochet, embroidery, quilting, and sewing, while reconsidering the binaries of art and craft, masculine and feminine, and gay and straight. Designed by Todd Oldham and edited by John Chaich, this 192-page, hardcover, 8 x 10-inch book features full-colour spreads of each artist’s work, along with intimate details of selections and artist studios, as well as an introductory essay by Chaich, who curated the exhibition of the same name that inspired this book. To further examine how queerness informs their work in fibre and textiles, or vice versa, the artists were interviewed by makers and thinkers from the worlds of dance, design, fashion, media, music, museums, scholarship, and more—many members of the LGBTQ community themselves, and otherwise passionate allies. As discussed by John Chaich the resulting dialogues are as colourful, challenging, personal, and universal as the works discussed and talents showcased. John Chaich noted that Queer Threads is not just an exploration of fibre art and crafts, but also a celebration of the creativity, diversity, and vibrancy of contemporary queer culture. It was self-evident that John Chaich fully promoted and championed these artists and has a clear affection for the subject matter.

Excerpts from Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community by John Chaich and Todd Oldham
Excerpts from Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community by John Chaich and Todd Oldham

Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community exhibition included artists based around the world, including New York, Atlanta, Toronto, Cape Town, and Buenos Aires, who use thread-based craft materials and techniques to examine the diversity of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer experiences. The exhibition responded to the gender connotations, feminist histories and power hierarchies situated within the history of fibre art and domestic handicrafts, while examining the icons, tastes, roles, relationships, and spaces socialised within and around gay and lesbian culture.

René Treviño interviewed curator John Chaich about Queer Threads at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), Baltimore (2015).

John Chaich acknowledged that this exhibit was loud and proud and full of thoughtful, powerful work that screams about feminism, queerness, sexuality, and virtuosity prowess. The exhibit, was curated by John Chaich, and brought together artists who explore “notions of aspiration, socialisation, and representation within the LGBTQ community by employing thread-based craft materials, techniques, and processes.”

Sheila Pepe’s “Your Granny’s Not Square,” 2008. The work is a wild, mangled composition made of shoelaces and yarn and creates beautiful shadows.

John Chaich reiterated this exhibit spoke strongly to those students with solid examples of tapestry, crochet, quilting, needlepoint, etc., however Queer Threads spoke to all viewers. The content offered a giant range of materiality, experimentation, process, and colour to inform, and to inspire. John Chaich said that feminism teaches us to question systems, expectations, and privileges, that deny opportunities for women, devalue the feminine, and restrict freedoms of gender expression or sexual identity. Queer Threads presents art and craft practices long associated with women and thereby considered lesser than work by men. The female-, trans-, and male-identified artists in Queer Threads embrace the so-called “women’s work” of fibre art and crafts, and in doing so, honours the artistic talents, ideas, and legacies of women.

Larry Krone, “Then and Now (Rainbow Order),” 2008. Yarn, wood, and hanging hardware.
Liz Collins, “Accumulated Pride,” 2014, cotton and other yarns loomed during Knitting Nation performance installations, 2005-2012.

In various ways–some conceptual, some political, some nuanced, some strategic–feminism informs the work and practices of featured artists like Harmony Hammond, Jesse Harrod, Liz Collins, LJ Roberts, and Sheila Pepe. Elsewhere, gender-specific works like Nathan Vincent’s crocheted and knitted men’s locker room benefit from feminist readings. Works like Ben Cuevas Genitosexual or Buzz Slutzky’s “Body Party” series blur binaries or biologies. John Chaich emphasised that it was fascinating to see how Maria Pineres–as a lesbian, Latina artist–employs gay male erotic imagery in her work to explore sexuality’s urgency and power. Through related public programming, John Chaich encouraged involvement of queer feminist scholars Julia Bryan-Wilson, Ann Cvetkovich and Jeanne Vaccaro, as well as Baltimore activists like self-proclaimed Marxist-Feminist queer woman of colour with input from Tori McReynolds to ensure academic and challenging critiques of the exhibition and related discourse. This curator was keen to add that neither “craft” nor “feminine” should be dirty words in and around any creative communities.

In response to curatorial practice John Chaich said that he starts researching and developing the concept well in advance, for what became Queer Threads as he started to prepare as early as 2011. When selecting work for Queer Threads or any exhibition, he is very mindful of exhibition design: how works will interact with each other and what variety of scale and media will engage viewers at both an intimate viewing and quick glance. He is also particularly interested in what happens to work by artists at various stages of their career or recognition, and/or artists who are working within and outside of the gallery or academic system, are shown together.

John Thomas Paradiso’s “Leather Pansy II,” 2010, uses a small embroidery hoop as a functional frame. The small intricacies of the pansies embroidered on black leather are an evocative, smart contrast. (Leather, thread, and plastic hoop on basswood panel).
L.J. Roberts, “The Queer Houses of Brooklyn in the Three Towns of Breukelen, Boswyck and Midwout during the 41st Year of the Stonewall Era, (based on a 2010 drawing by Daniel Rosza Lang/Levitsky with 24 illustrations by Buzz Slutzky on printed pin-back buttons),” 2011, Poly-fill, acrylic, rayon, Lurex, wool, polyester, cotton, lamé, sequins and blended fabrics with printed pin-back buttons.

The exhibition represented a very personal place for this curator as he grew up in a home where his mother and grandmother crocheted and quilted. As a gay man, he acknowledged that he was naturally drawn to queer artists working in these mediums. On a deeper level, he reflected upon the impact of seeing the AIDS quilt in its entirety in Washington DC in the mid-90s–where he saw first-hand the works of love, pain and passion remembering the lives of people of colour, gay men, and trans-warriors, all in one interwoven piece of art and activism. Queer Threads was also influenced by a range of collaborations including his two decade-long friendship with teacher and scholar Lyz Bly, PhD, and their discussions on Third Wave feminism’s “taking back” of craft.

“Road to Tennessee,” 2015, by MICA faculty Aaron McIntosh combines a large digital print (sourced from gay erotica) on fabric with skilful quilting and fabric manipulation. The male silhouette is simultaneously on a journey and fleeting into memory.

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