Like many Korean families, artist Ema Shin’s relatives maintain a genealogy book called a jokbo, which illustrates their family tree. Shin’s ancestral record spans 32 generations, yet only male members of the family are represented. Born and raised in Japan, and currently based in Melbourne, Australia, the artist describes in a recent statement that “in the society that I was born and raised in, there was a prejudice between men and women, and their roles were predetermined. I always felt uncomfortable with this inequality.” In her series Hearts of Absent Women, she celebrates and recognizes women whose achievements remain obscured by history.
Heart-shaped forms made from fabric are elaborately embellished with colorful threads and beads in an homage to the organ’s connection with emotion and vitality. They are nearly life-size, and the range of woven and stitched textures are captivatingly tactile. Both anatomical and fanciful, the arteries, veins, and ventricles become distinctive expressions in needlework that reflect strength, resilience, and individuality. Since becoming a mother herself, Shin has been particularly interested in honoring women’s lives and bodies, recognizing the anonymous contributions of those in her family and around the world and acknowledging their stories for the future.
Some of Shin’s work can be seen at the Victoria Craft Awards 2021 exhibition through May 21. She has limited-edition prints from the series for sale on her website, and you can also follow her on Instagram.
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Immersed in dreamlike surroundings, figures interact with nature and participate in enigmatic rituals in embroideries by Michelle Kingdom (previously). The Los Angeles-based artist continues to explore what she describes as “psychological landscapes,” portraying a diverse range of figures in ambiguous activities and settings that are intricately composed from thread. Drawing on the rich traditions of needlework, she takes a more freeform approach to the medium in which stitching becomes a tool for sketching, honoring its history while subtly subverting convention.
Often gathered together, Kingdom’s subjects appear to be performing vital tasks or observing fascinating or momentous occurrences, yet their intentions are mysterious. Her compositions combine elements of nature, geometry, and allegory. In her statement she writes, “Memories, histories, and mythologies collide amid an undercurrent of political turbulence. Entwined, these influences explore power, relationships and self-perception.”
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With a background in medicine, Edinburgh-based artist Flore Gardner fosters a creative practice that explores the body and its untapped potential. She works in an array of mediums from printmaking and ink-based illustrations to mixed-media installations and fiber, pushing the limits of human anatomy into the realm of the absurd or subversive. No matter the material, each work centers on a primary interest in drawing and utilizes the same techniques and principles that fill the pages of her notebooks.
One of Gardner’s series, titled (Her)Stories, overlays vintage, black-and-white photographs largely sourced from flea markets with vibrant stitches. As the name suggests, the collection focuses primarily on women, and the embroidered elements obscure faces with dense patches, add dimension to a subject’s body, or highlight their figures by drawing a contrast to the backdrop.
Revitalized with color and texture, the portraits and posed group shots take on a new narrative with the artist’s thread drawings and “modify the ‘reality’ of the photos, revealing hidden things underneath (eg. unseen naked bodies under wedding clothes, invisible haloes, hidden thoughts) or on the contrary hiding certain details (threads shroud the inevitably dead figures or ‘ghosts’).” She explains further:
The needle is an instrument for hurting and for healing—a photograph (or human skin) can be damaged by its treatment and simultaneously repaired/recreated. This needle makes hundreds of little holes in each photograph, once a precious object, and these, along with the threads, transform the flat, smooth, untouchable photographic support into a relief surface, which can be touched and even, in a certain way, read like Braille.
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From Looney Tunes and Mickey Mouse to The Simpsons, cartoons have a long history of imagining the most ridiculous, chaotic moments possible and dramatizing them into absurdity. The animated characters and their hijinks are rooted in humor, and yet, as artist Peter Frederiksen recognizes, they also have a more sinister side. “Violence is a shorthand for conflict, confrontation, fears,” he tells Colossal, noting that many iconic cartoons were created post-war or have been produced during times when “violence was in the ether… I don’t put guns in embroideries because I like guns. I put guns in embroideries because they’re an escalation. They’re overcompensation. They’re anxiety and fear.”
Frederiksen has spent the last few years zeroing in on the antagonism in these classic scenes and preserving their short-lived nature in dense embroideries. He renders knives piercing a closed door, tied bedsheets pulled taught as they drop out of a window, and hands twisting into knots while attempting to play the piano. Tightly stitched onto a canvas with a machine, the works are true to their original source in color and style, although Frederiksen precisely crops each scenario from its surroundings.
Decontextualized and infused with action, the nostalgic works are simultaneously familiar in their imagery while unrecognizable in the scope of a larger narrative. “They tell a story in as ominous a way as I’m aiming for, maintaining the sort of tension I’m building with a scene,” he says. “I also enjoy thinking about rendering these tight little scenes as a mirror to what I’m physically doing, using my hands in small little ways to make something happen.”
The Chicago-based artist has a number of shows scheduled for this year, including at Postmasters Roma in May and a solo exhibition at New York’s Massey Klein in September. Until then, follow his work on Instagram. (via The Guardian)
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Favoring thread and found materials, Richmond-based artist Hillary Waters Fayle (previously) works at the intersection of textile traditions and botany. “Stitching, like horticulture, can be functional,” she says, “a technical solution to join materials/a means of survival. Or, both can be done purely in service of the soul, lifting the spirit through beauty and wonder.”
Fayle’s practice embodies this sentiment with elaborate and colorful embroideries applied to dried leaves. Lined with brown edges, the perfectly preserved surfaces become more fragile as they age, and the threaded embellishments enhance the relationship between the natural and fabricated. “There is a sense of magic in being able to work with such an unexpected and exquisite material,” the artist says. “The tension in the thread, the type of stitching, the needle, the species, and the season are just some of the factors that may influence what happens.” Recent pieces include ornate networks in blue on ginkgo, floral motifs on eucalyptus, and red dots on golden leaves.
This summer, Fayle’s works will be on view at Quirk Gallery in Charlottesville, Virginia, and this fall at Asheville’s Momentum Gallery. Until then, explore more of her stitched works, in addition to leafy cutouts and large-scale murals, on Instagram.
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Cats are known to wedge themselves into tiny spots and generally treat people as human jungle gyms, and artist Hiroko Kubota (previously) translates that lack of spatial awareness into her tiny embroideries. Stitched onto collared shirts, the Nara-based artist’s portraits are cleverly placed to depict furry faces peering over the edge of a pocket and sometimes, attempting to climb out from their garment confines. Since she started the designs about a decade ago, Kubota has embroidered hundreds of characters, each with their distinct personalities and mischievous expressions.
This spring, Kubota is participating in an Osaka cat event with photographers and other handcraft artists and is planning a solo exhibition this fall. She’s paused international commissions for now, but you can stay updated on her work on Instagram.
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