An exhibition of portraits at Unit/Pitt does something unusual, at least in Vancouver: it brings strong black women into the house of art.
The portraits are a wonderful combination of craft and concept. They’re made with thread and different kinds of coloured, patterned material most often used by women in the home. They’re not the kinds of materials traditionally used to make art.
Several of the women in We All Know Each Other by Gio Swaby are drawn in black thread. In other portraits, the heads and upper parts of their torsos are drawn using a single swatch of fabric so we can see them in profile with their strong faces and crowns of hair. In varying lengths and loops, black and white threads hang down from the portraits.
On the first day I went to see the exhibition, there was a slight breeze blowing in that caused the white thread heading down from the portraits to sway gently. The movement focused my attention on the pieces of white thread and how they crossed the oval boundary of the portraits. I thought that the dangling thread softened the women and pointed to another side of their personalities that might not be apparent at first.
Many of the portraits depict strong women staring directly at the viewer as if to say ‘Here I am.” Some are self-portraits of the artist and the others are of women the artist knows. Seen together, the portraits and their context makes We All Know Each Other one of the best exhibitions I’ve seen this year.
The portraits are in oval frames edged with frilly lace. They are framed again by formal, historic molding with a fancy crown on the top. The straight lines of the decorative, architectural frame heightens the colourful flower patterns in the portraits and can be read as physical signs of European colonialism.
Another, bigger frame is the gallery itself. The floor and walls have been painted black to play on the conceptual idea of the ‘white cube.’ But it’s not a fully a ‘black cube’ either: the ceiling remains white, perhaps as a reminder of the dominant whiteness of the art world.
The exhibition includes a group of three full-length portraits of black women whose limbs and faces are drawn in thread and their clothes, from swatches of material with flower patterns. The portraits are framed by imitation flowers …
Source:: Vancouver Sun – Entertainment