What began as a simple appreciation of fabrics printed with vibrant geometries and hypnotic motifs has morphed into a stunning celebration of African culture. Thandiwe Muriu’s ongoing Camo series cloaks models in arresting garments that disguise them in textile surroundings, leaving just their hands and faces visible. “When I source fabrics, I look for something that I can look at and it almost feels alive,” she says. “Something bold, slightly confusing on the eyes, and less traditional. In my images, the fabric acts as the backdrop that I can celebrate my culture on. It is a bright, welcoming canvas that I can highlight what I love about my fellow Kenyan people.”
From the printed clothing to the subject’s accessories and hairstyles, each image is layered with references to the Nairobi-based photographer’s daily life and a sense of resourcefulness that permeates the local culture. Common items like bottle tops, mosquito coils, bicycle gears, straws, and cleaning brushes become elaborate eyewear or decorative additions to historical “architectural hairstyles that are being forgotten,” she tells Colossal. “Our natural hairstyles as Africans/Kenyans are one of the unique things about our beauty culture that I wouldn’t want to see lost, so I incorporate it into my work to spark conversation around traditional hairstyles and how we can wear them today.”
Muriu, who works in commercial advertising by day, shares that Camo is an ironic exploration into the relationship between personal and collective identities. The visually striking portraits are “commentary on how as individuals, we can lose ourselves to the expectations culture has on us, yet there are such unique and beautiful things about every individual,” Muriu says. “I wanted to celebrate everything I had struggled with in my own beauty journey—my hair, my skin, and my identity as a modern woman in a traditional culture.”
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Birmingham, U.K.-based artist Zoë Hillyard revitalizes shattered vases and bowls by melding traditional craft techniques. She wraps a mishmash of vintage silks and fabrics around individual ceramic shards, binding the broken pieces with tightly stitched thread. Appearing glazed with antique florals and other ornate motifs, the patchwork forms contrast the original shape of the pottery with the newly mended exterior, a reconfigured finish that’s commonly disrupted by missing pieces and jagged edges.
Gathering the source materials from ceramicists’ reject piles or by receiving broken family heirlooms for commissions, Hillyard works with the initial shape and purpose in mind. She says:
Like archaeological treasures, they display imperfections in the form of holes and irregularity, and all the more interesting for them. Each piece is unique in terms of the combinations of materials used, the pattern of breakage, the impact of colour and print and aesthetic decisions made during reconstruction.
Hillyard’s body of work is replete with metaphorical and physical tension and contrast between the old and new. Although the pieces appear delicate and light like the fabrics that envelop their sides, they retain the heftiness and weight of clay and are warmer to the touch than a porcelain vessel, for example. “Most surprisingly, they often have a subtle flex, disconcerting when contrasted with traditional ‘solid’ forms of ceramic repair,” the artist shares. “I enjoy these ambiguities, with the work challenging expectations and conventional definitions.”
In addition to her practice, Hillyard teaches textile design at Birmingham City University. She currently has pieces at Contemporary Applied Arts in London and will show new works in June 2022 at The Pool House Gallery in Gloucestershire. Until then, explore more of her process and mended projects on Instagram. (via Women’s Art)
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A decade into her weaving practice, Australian artist Tammy Kanat (previously) continues to explore the possibilities of fiber, texture, and knots. Her giant wall hangings rely on patches of tufted wool, concentric circles in linen, and fringed, silk motifs suspended in lopsided brass rings to evoke organic forms and naturally occurring patterns.
Focusing on energy and movement, each abstract piece contrasts high piles and flatweaves comprised of thousands of knots that Kanat composes without a preconceived plan. “I often think of my weavings as a novel, as I work on a piece it is one chapter at a time until I finish it. Not knowing what the end will be keeps me driven and engaged. I have been creating more intricate woven shapes, inspired by my surroundings in nature,” the artist says. “I have become more engaged and curious about the slow detailed process of weaving, experimenting with one knot at a time.”
In her most recent body of work A Woven Metaphor, Kanat utilizes more angled frames with vibrant gradients radiating outward. The wall hangings are “about the shapes and colors gently pulling you into the piece. A dark center which evolves gradually to a lightness on the outside providing relief,” she shares. “The works are a juxtaposition of complexity and simplicity.”
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Azerbaijani artist Faig Ahmed (previously) has amassed a staggering archive of sculptural carpets that blur the boundaries of digital distortion and traditional craft techniques. Often monumental in scale, his fringed rugs are woven with classic, ornate patterns on top before they billow into a pool of glitches and skewed motifs.
Ahmed weaves conceptual and historical relevances into his most recent trio, which is on view as part of his solo show PIR at New York’s Sapar Contemporary through January 6, 2022. Each piece draws its name from a spiritual leader who profoundly impacted Azerbaijani culture, including Shams Tabrizi, Yahya al-Shirvani al-Bakuvi, and Nizami Ganjavi. The carpet inspired by Tabrizi, who was Rumi’s mentor, for example, “gradually dissolve(s) into a black woolen space of nothingness, much like the final stages of a mystic’s spiritual journey: annihilation (fana’) of one’s individual ego within the divine presence, like the flame of a candle in the presence of the sun.”
Visit Ahmed’s site to see behind-the-scenes photos of his process and to explore a larger collection of his fiber-based sculptures.
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Peruvian artist Cecilia Paredes continues her ongoing series of camouflaged self-portraits with deceptive new works that leave only her hair, eyes, and ears untouched. Set against lavish backdrops printed with birds in shades of blue, floral motifs, and ornate flourishes, Paredes paints her skin and positions herself in a precise alignment with the chosen pattern, disappearing among the colorful landscapes. Each work, which the Lima-born artist refers to as “photo performances,” considers how individual identities are informed by natural environments and the broader cultural milieu. Explore an archive of Paredes’s lavish portraits at Ruiz-Healy Art, Artsy, and Instagram.
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Using scraps of vibrant Ankara fabric, Lagos-based artist Marcellina Oseghale Akpojotor fashions intimate portraits that consider the fragmented and varied inner lives of her subjects. The intricately composed depictions rely on a cacophony of patterns arranged in loose ripples and tufts, creating a patchwork of color and texture. Although the textiles are Dutch in origin—they’re colloquially known as “African print fabrics”—they have a strong cultural significance, and by piecing together the assorted motifs, Akpojotor establishes a shared visual memory.
Set against uncluttered, domestic backdrops rendered in acrylic, the fiber-based figures are often disrupted with small spots of paint as a way to “speak to the influence our environment has in shaping us as individuals,” Akpojotor shares. “They represent the connections we have with our background and immediate society and how these often ignored elements form a part of our being.” Navigating the links between subjects and their surroundings is an ongoing concern for the artist, whose work delves into the effects of the current moment, in addition to the ways personal histories and the actions of previous generations have lasting impacts.
Akpojotor is represented by Rele Gallery, where her work will be on view later this month, and she’s currently working on pieces that explore how education affects women’s empowerment, which you can follow on Instagram. (via Women’s Art)
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Editor's Picks: Illustration
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