Felipe Maqueira, Uruguay, “…in search of a stepped-on past” detail.
Museo de Arte Precolombino e Indigena – MAPI is hosting a wonderful exhibition of works by invited textile artists who celebrate long involvement in World Textile Art, WTA the organisation presenting the current VII Biennial Textile de Arte Contemporaneo. If you are in the old city of Montevideo before this exhibition closes on November 4th, I recommend going to the second floor of this wonderful Montevideo museum. Check opening days and hours first – entry is free tuesdays! Curiously this venue, too, did not even have a gallery copy of the biennial’s catalogue available, let alone a stock of them for sale. When I finally got a catalogue to the biennial exhibitions, I found there are no artist statements of any kind, and though I deplore artist statements as a rule, (on which more later) in this very multicultural event I found myself reading and photographing didactic panels about some of the works to help me understand them more, as I sometimes need help with Spanish! On the other hand, whether the viewer experiences positive or a negative reaction to a piece of art that causes reflection and thought, then I think we would agree the artist has succeeded at least in part. All these twenty invitational exhibits were interesting.
Anyway, at MAPI it was hard to select my favourite, and at first I thought it might be this one, predictable perhaps given my own background. It clearly owes something to patchwork and quilting, and you all know I love grids, as I employ them in much of my own textile art. In this piece, though, Felipe Maqueira references so much more than the ceramic tiles that inspire much of his work, and which were not what first came to my anglo mind. Seeing this made me think of pressed sheets of tin lining the rooms in C19th buildings, and think back to historic rural and mining towns of Outback Australia I experienced in my travels, so many of which feature such material. And in Natchez, Mississippi, touring a marvellous historic plantation home there we were shown a custom made painted canvas flooring fitted to an octagonal entry hall – it was imported from London. from C18t onwards, wealthy Americans on both continents have traditionally imported the best european goods money could buy to furnish fancy town houses, estancias and plantation homes. So definitely in my mind ‘painted canvas floors’ link with European colonisation of the New World. The artist’s comments roughly translate to something like this: ” … a reflection of gold and silver remembered, on the tragedy, the humor, the joy of different encounters and disagreements between ourselves.” Could this reference the oppressive weight of the continent’s colonial past? Or does it just refer to the foot traffic of people moving through our lives? In a way that doesn’t matter, this lovely work is interesting and thought provoking. I don’t know the sequence of processes Felipe Maqueira used, but know from the technical points listed that the top metallic painted layer (possibly stiff canvas, maybe canvas backed vinyl) has been laser cut, and the cutouts reveal a variety of fabrics behind, some sections of which are embellished with hand stitch (see detail above)
Felipe Maqueira, “… in search of a stepped-on past”, 120cmW x 180cmH.
Having recently met this next artist Silvia Piza-Tandlich, I was keen to find her work “Ave de America” (Birds of the Americas) and see it first hand. Large, 270cmH x 150cmW, and suspended from the ceiling, it was much more striking than the pictures I’d seen of it, and I spent a lot of time in its presence. Silvia’s Central American country, Costa Rica, is part of the land bridge between South and North America. The rich wild life, annual passages of migrating birds and her own extensive travels up and down the continents gave the broad vision that inspired this work. Probably every culture on earth has a strong connection to birds and their importance in our lives. Many cultures assign a spiritual connection to a particular bird, which we know from ancient pictographs and petroglyphs, and birds’ inclusions in markings and patterns on the material objects of any particular culture. That we easily recognise these symbols, even if a culture is not well known to us, is testament to birds’ universal presence and the symbolic roles they can have in our own lives, no matter where we live.
Silvia Piza-Tandlich Ave de America, 270cmH x 250cmW
This work is double sided, or ‘low relief 3D’ might be the better way to describe it. Though different on each side, in general the wings, head and shoulders of this suspended ‘parrot’ are decorated with preColombian bird symbols from the continents’ diverse cultures, though Silvia added in a few she designed herself. Making up the bird’s ‘body’ are many small connected human figures with different coloured skins, wearing different coloured clothes, symbolising the diversity of the American peoples’ cultures and their connectedness. In all, it is a carefully thought out design, rich in symbolism and employing many of the widely used, traditional hand techniques found in indigenous textile arts – applique, embroidery, crochet, macrame, stuffing and couched linear elements. This might be my favourite…
But wait! There’s more! I’ve been to Mexico a few times, and also spent much time with family in New Mexico, US. So I instantly recognised the next work as a huge papel picada, (paper cutout) so often seen in Mexican festivals and occasions:
Geogina Toussaint, Mexico, Fosas Clandestinas (fosas=graves) 140cmW x 200cmH
Geogina Toussaint, Mexico, Fosas Clandestinas, detail
When researching various things I don’t know but want to write about, I learn so much when writing this blog, and it is always fun. I’ve seen so many of these cut papers, but never thought about actually finding out how they are made – I just assumed some machinery of some kind. The wiki link above describes the process of cutting, or stamping out the paper, often through many layers at a time with particular different shaped chisels or punches, an exacting process used here for the purple layer, described as ‘handcut’ by the artist. Strong purple on a backing of strong yellow, with touches of other bright colours in the bordering rosettes, reflects the background culture to this piece. The artist comments on the unfortunate situation today in Mexico, where in several lawless regions controlled by drug cartels and people smugglers, killings and burials in unmarked graves are relatively common. Every November on the festival known as Day of The Dead, these disappeared people will be remembered and never forgotten, no matter where their hidden graves lie. Unknown graves are called fosas clandestinas – the title of this dramatic work.
The next work of woven wool, silk and gold metallic thread, “Balsa Muisca” (Muisca Boat) was inspired by the Colombian legend of ‘El Dorado’ that drove the Spanish hunt for gold in the New World. I loved this and am sorry I didn’t get a good enough detail to catch the subtle golden gleam in the fabric.
Graciela Szamrey, Argentina, “Balsa Muisca”, (balsawood raft/boat) 175cmW x 135cmH
The statement to Vuelo Chamanico (shamanic flight) by artist Pilar Tobon, pictured below, translated reads : “The shaman is a spiritual leader and / or healer within an indigenous community. To perform a religious or therapeutic ceremony, he is induced to a trance by means of hallucinogenic plants, with which his spirit rises, ‘flies’ to come into contact with the spirits that can give him knowledge and guide him to heal the sick.” Five panels 70cmW x 300cmH are printed with large images of symbols of spiritiual significance (including frogs and birds) to the indigenous Colombian people. These were commonly found in the fabulous preColumbian gold jewellery they used for body ornamentation – the Spanish conquerors never understood that the value of these things was in the powerful symbol itself, not the material of which they were made, gold, so precious to Europeans; and much was seized, melted down and sent back to Spain. In preColumbian times these symbolic golden earrings, bracelets, neckpieces et al were thrown to the bottom of lakes as offerings to the gods, hence the metal pieces scattered on the floor beneath these panels.
Pilar Tobon, Colombia, “Vuelo Chamanico” 5 panels 70cmW x 300cmH
A keen fan of the Nigerian artist, El Anatsui, I instantly thought of his extraordinary art on which I have written previously when I saw this installation, and was pleased to see that this artist, Isabel Polikowsky Ditone, Argentina, acknowledged his influence in this work as she continues a series experimenting with different materials other than traditional fabrics, threads and techniques. Such an assembly stretches the boundary of the concept of ‘fabric’, and like true fabrics, these three panels drape beautifully.
Isabel Polikowsky Ditone, Argentina, Las Mantas de Descartes 3 x 70cmW x 170cmH
Flora Sutton, Argentina, “Aire Baile” (Air Dance) 150cmW x 130cmH
Suspended from the high ceiling on individual, motorised mounts, these three metal sculptures of steel and wire looked like woven thread structures, and were hard to photograph in a meaningful way. As each slowly turned on an individual motorised mount, the metal surfaces catching the light, glinted and changed subtly as each piece turned, adding more to the illusion of a gentle, soft, needleweaving.
Some pieces become ‘favourites’ because of aesthetic appeal, others become so because the viewer strongly connects with the work on some personal level. Each of my selections above qualify on both counts. If you possibly can, do go and make your own grouping of favourites before this one closes on 4th November next. (this is a date correction to this post published earlier today – mea culpa)