I visited the opening of Fiberart International 2016 and the all-day Fiberart Forum in Pittsburgh. The Forum is an all day, intensive walk through of the show, with artists speaking about their pieces, anchored by a key note speaker.
This is an exhibition of contemporary fiber art, shown both at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and the Society for Contemporary Craft, from May 6 – August 21, 2016.
Full disclosure: this tri-annual show was the single most important inspiration for me to become a fiber artist. I visited the show in 2004 and 2007 in wordless wonder. I longed to be able to create like these artists did, but this dream seemed far out of reach compared to the reality of my life at the time.
Then, after a moment of profound enlightenment, I changed my life and began a now 10-year quest to become a fiber artist.
By 2009 that road had taken me to membership in the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh, the wonderful organization that organizes this show every three years. So returning to “the Burgh” meant reuniting with my dear friends in the FGP as well.
The keynote speaker this year was juror Tali Weinberg, Executive Director of the Textile Society of America, and her topic was “Engaging Injustice Through Textiles.” She caught my attention by making the observation that textiles are interwoven with the history of injustice. Think: enslaved labor picking cotton. Think: labor exploitation in textile plants. Consider Ghandi’s movement to create hand woven products in India to counter British dumping of cheap manufactured cotton goods.
Her words echoed in my mind viewing the Best in Show: “THIS Revolution Will Not Be Televised: #13 Protest Series,” by Penny Mateer in collaboration with Martha Wasik. It is a giant (94” x 77”) quilt of the images of 80 unarmed persons of color who have been shot by the police since 1999. The border lists their names, ages, where they were from, and the date of their deaths.
Some other pieces that particularly intrigued me were “Snellandschap Luchtweg (Fast Landscape Airway) by Pauline MM Nijenhuis from the Netherlands. It is a canvas painted then hand stitched, and a statement on time – the fast and slow of it.
Susan Kathleen Doyle’s “Columbia” is a two-piece dress made from an encyclopedia her husband discarded. The muted colors and workmanship mesmerized me, plus I’ve a special interest in the use of old paper.
Margery Amdur’s “Amass #6” transforms cut cosmetic sponges with ink, gouache, pastel pigment into a lush landscape that you want to visually dive into and not leave.
“Mending, Roe v Wade,” is a small but powerful piece by Lori Zimmerman that gives visual, visceral representation to the erosion of the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal.
Patricia Kennedy-Zafred has now made five “Tagged” pieces. Each one, for me, has had special, personal meaning (my childhood best friend’s father was one of the 120,000 persons of Japanese heritage forced into internment camps under FDR’s Executive Order 9066). This one, Patty says, is the best. She has learned more about the people pictured, and been able to add more information to the tags.
Finally, Emily Jan of Canada delighted me with her flying wolf adorned with peacock feathers. “Ragnarök” refers to the Norse Twilight of the Gods. A mysterious and beautiful world indeed.