In Julia Fioravanti’s embroidered piece “One Creates Ones Self,” a woman lies on her side in bed. An open window shows a dark blue sky and the moon. She’s wearing underwear and a cropped shirt with the title phrase across it. The image is stitched together with richly colored layered thread producing a three-dimensional image. Each component is constructed with short straight lines moving in divergent directions except for her hair, which is framing her face in tight ringlets.
Fioravanti’s work is a part of Feminist Fiber Art (FFA), a show bringing together the talent of skilled artists who have created elaborate, direct and fun works centered in the lives of women. The traveling show is on display at Virago Gallery located in West Seattle. FFA features about 50 pieces ranging in size and will include quilts, embroidery and dolls. The artists are from all around the globe and gallery owner Tracy Cilona also included the work of several local artists such as Fioravanti. The common denominator bringing it all together is feminism.
“You have artists that are doing embroidery. You have artists that are doing beadwork, quilting, bag making. It’s really amazing,” Cilona said. “I really love fiber art in the way that is repetitive and meditative.”
Iris Nectar is the organizer and curator of FFA. The show was born out of Nectar’s desire to combat the gender disparity in the art world. She created a place for women to show their work and empower them. Nectar cites a statistic from the National Endowment for the Arts as a motivator for FFA: 51 percent of visual artists today are women, but only 5 percent of artwork in major museums are by women.
Fiber art is often referred to as art created with natural or synthetic fibers using techniques such as sewing and weaving. Think cross stitching, but more intricate. The work in the show is not your grandmother’s quilt. These are ornate creations taking a considerable amount of time to complete.
In “Childless Complete Woman” by Aslı Alkan of Turkey, a woman is reclining on a bed propped up by three pillows and reading a book. Artwork hangs on the wall behind her and a cactus is on the nightstand. The colorful piece took two months to finish and was inspired by Alkan’s aunt who taught her how to stitch. The artist is also challenging the perception that women who don’t bear children are incomplete.
“I have imagined her in her 30s,” Alkan wrote on a Tumblr post. “Her life was not that easy, had depression issues since I know her. She loves reading, handcrafts — master of many types — traveling and crossword and never got married.”
If you think fiber art isn’t considered fine art, FFA will change your mind. Alkan’s work demonstrates why Cilona and others say it belongs in the esteemed category.
“I think there’s technique, there is cohesiveness to the work in the show, there’s skill, there’s intent,” Cilona said. “Because it was traditionally thought to be women’s work it wasn’t taken seriously but I think that’s totally not the case anymore.”
While fiber art is firmly established among women artists, Cilona said men are now taking up the medium.
In curating the show, Cilona was drawn to works addressing women’s roles and women’s bodies.
Artist Sarah Trahan has several embroidered pieces in the show. “Blue Nude” is a seated woman made of found silk. Her body is created through a patchwork of various tones of blue fabric. A paisley print on her arm creates the illusion of a tattooed sleeve. Trahan said she used a collage approach through the lens of illustration for the piece. Nude photos of everyday women inspired Trahan.
“I liked the sort of curviness of those photos and at the same time I was fabric hunting and I found this old vintage sari at a reuse place,” Trahan said. “I had this mental connection while running the sari through my fingers of the silk, the same voluptuousness. I’m going to make an illustration that communicates how I feel about this piece of silk.”
FFA began in Somerville, Mass. in a three-venue art crawl in the summer of 2015.
Because of positive response, Nectar decided to turn it into a traveling show. She said the show has also inspired others to start making their own fiber art.
“These kinds of shows not only stimulate a larger conversation about women’s place in the art world, women’s place in our culture in general and the value systems associated with that,” Strahan said. “These shows also give us a space to connect with each other and commune over shared intellectual and emotional experiences in a way that traditional art world a lot of times doesn’t allow us to do.”
What: "Feminist Fiber Art"
When: Reception Sat. April 15, 6 p.m. - 9 p.m. Show runs until April 30.
Where: Virago Gallery, 4306 SW Alaska St, Seattle