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Art

Figurative Wool Sculptures by Nastassja Swift Explore the Memories and Narratives of Blackness

April 13, 2021

Grace Ebert

Detail of “Passage, when momma lets my braids flow down my back,” wool, synthetic braiding hair, wood, plaster, resin, satin. Collaborators are Kiki Jewell, Nyja Amos, Grace Jewell. Photo by David Hunter-Hale. All images © Nastassja Swift, shared with permission

In her salient text, In The Wake: On Blackness and Being, scholar Christina Sharpe delves into the multiple definitions of “wake,” which span from “the path behind a ship, keeping watch with the dead, (to) coming to consciousness.” “In the wake,” Sharpe writes, “the past that is not past reappears, always, to rupture the present.” Largely focused on conversations around anti-Blackness and continued violence, the book is rooted in the afterlife of slavery and what sentiments, practices, and memories linger into the current moment, questions that similarly ground the work of artist Nastassja Swift.

Through fiber-based figures often arranged in large gatherings, Swift explores various narratives tied to Blackness, particularly those that relate to water and ancestral presences. “I’m interested in taking those things as starting points and imaging a space or happening that involves my sculpture and allows me to think through a hypothetical rooted in that memory or history,” the Virginia-based artist says. She derives these stories from texts like Sharpe’s, discussions with friends, and in one instance, a conversation with an older Black woman at a Toni Morrison film screening.

 

“Freedom Whispers in the Sky,” wool and wire

While there are multiple narrative threads in each of her pieces, Swift doesn’t strive to disclose each one, preferring explicit gaps in the connections. “I love knowing that there’s more to what’s being made and imagining other characters or continued happenings around what’s being made,” she says. “That’s not something I’m attempting to convey, rather information that I’m okay not sharing.”

Many of the faces evoke imagined subjects, not relatives Swift has met or seen in photographs, but rather somewhat of “an ancestral presence that allows my hands to make the face in any particular moment without my mind being aware of it.” She always begins with the supple shape of the face and then sculpts the facial details and hair from dyed wool and felt, a process that’s intimate and that’s evolved with two more recent works.

 

“Your Banks are Red Honey Where the Moon Wanders-Self Portrait,” wool, cocoa butter soap, black sand, resin on wood. Photo by David Hunter-Hale

“With ‘Passage, when momma lets my braids flow down my back’ (2021) and ‘Your Banks are Red Honey Where the Moon Wanders-Self Portrait’ (2020), everything changed,” Swift says, describing the shift in the process to that of a ritual. The first of these two works, “Passage,” is a bubblegum pink figure sporting a collar marked with smaller heads arranged in a gradient. Long braids descend down the torso and pool on the floor. Second is Swift’s self-portrait, which features a calm face shaped in deep red wool that’s silhouetted by braids and figurative tendrils. Both interpret specific subjects as West African masks and sculptural forms in order to question “what it means to worship someone, and how that word could be reshaped to allow us to honor those around us,” the artist says.

Swift will have a satellite exhibition titled Canaan: when I read your letter, I feel your voice at the Contemporary Arts Network in Newport News from June 5 to July 3, 2021. Thanks to the Art as Activism Grant from the Black Box Press Foundation, the pieces will then travel for a stay at the Galveston Arts Center. The artist sells some felted dolls and other goods in her shop, and head to Instagram for glimpses into her studio and a larger collection of her sculptures.

 

“A Party for Sojourner,” wool, natural dyes, and tulle. Photo by Marlon Turner

Passage, when momma lets my braids flow down my back,” wool, synthetic braiding hair, wood, plaster, resin, satin. Collaborators are Kiki Jewell, Nyja Amos, Grace Jewell. Photo by David Hunter-Hale

“Inner City,” indigo-dyed wool and felt fabric. Photo by David Hunter-Hale

“Concealer,” wool and wire

Swift working on “Passage, when momma lets my braids flow down my back.” Photo by Nalan Smart

 

 



Craft

A Woolen Menagerie of Miniature Creatures by Natasya Shuljak Exudes Joy and Whimsy

December 23, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images © Natasya Shuljak, shared with permission

Adorable, cheery, and slightly dazed, this eccentric ensemble of miniatures is the latest from Moscow-based crafter Natasya Shuljak (previously). Made from raw fibers felted together, the expressive characters are imbued with whimsy and play. Flower petals sprout from ambiguous creatures, while other pudgy animals emit a calm and joyful air.

Because Shuljak’s style of dry felting emerged in recent years, she shares that her current preoccupation is with finding new ways to create without the help of tradition. “There is a lot of abstract in my work, and I want to enhance this feeling,” she says, noting that she might seek inspiration in other art forms like sculpture and architecture. “These spheres are united by expressive language: the character of the line, rhythm, texture, color, etc.”

Follow Sjuljak’s latest creations on Instagram, where she also announces news about releases in her shop.

 

 

 



Art

Unspun Wool Sculpted into Intimate Portraits by Artist Salman Khoshroo

May 8, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images © Salman Khoshroo, shared with permission

For Salman Khoshroo, carefully fashioning thick fibers into masculine portraits has a therapeutic effect. The Iranian artist, whose impasto paintings we’ve written about previously on Colossal, says his Wool on Foam series is born out of recent trauma and experience in quarantine. By sculpting the wool rovings into slight noses, puckered lips, and flowing hair, Khoshroo has evoked the delicacy and vulnerability humans face in precarious situations.

We live in fragile times, and I feel the need to find new materials and the mindset to reinvent my practice. Wool brings warmth and intimacy to these portraits and plays with provoking the nurture instinct. Making male portraits with this habitually perceived feminine material is part of a personal journey in re-interpreting the masculine condition.

The artist tells Colossal that he preferred to keep the pigmented rovings in their natural form, rather than spinning them into thread or pairing them down before use. “I laid the wool like floating brush strokes and these are the results. I guess coming to a new material without any predisposition makes it easier to create something without the burden of established techniques,” he says. Khoshroo sees these works as an extension of his established practice that produces similarly abstract portraits. 

To follow his upcoming endeavors, which includes crafting larger wool sculptures, head to Instagram. Check out this process video on his site, too.

 

 

 



Animation Craft

Six-Year-Old Tulip Navigates a Wooly Garden in a New Animation by Andrea Love

February 14, 2020

Grace Ebert

Andrea Love (previously) is back with a new heart-felt animation detailing the journey of a six-year-old girl named Tulip. An adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s Thumbelina, the 8-minute short film will chronicle Tulip’s adventures navigating a dense garden after being born from a flower. “We wanted to create a contemporary adaptation of Thumbelina that allows Tulip to be a child, free from a love-story ending and able to find home in more places than one, while maintaining the original story’s themes of risk, adventure and magic,” a statement about the project says.

The Washington-based artist is collaborating with illustrator Phoebe Wahl, and the pair are raising money for the project on Kickstarter. They released two snippets from the longer piece that show a bullfrog hopping onto a lily pad sending ripples through the wooly water and another following pink-cheeked Tulip as she moves aside vines and brush. To find out what happens on Tulip’s journey and to get a peek at the creatures she meets along the way, head to Love’s Instagram.

 

 



Craft

Miniature Creatures Made of Felted Wool by Nastasya Shuljak

January 31, 2020

Andrew LaSane

Moscow-based artist Nastasya Shuljak transforms packs of wool into sculptures of small animals and other whimsical creatures. Plants sprout from the heads of smiling trees and other natural spirits. Polar bears, foxes, hares, and other critters stare through inquisitive eyes applied to their tiny woolen faces. Shuljak’s toys are an exercise in the flexibility of the material and also a way to bring joy to all who meet them.

Shuljak, a former theater artist and art teacher, tells Colossal that the practice of making creatures began when friends gifted her some wool. With that first bag she made a bear and a hare, and the menagerie has been growing ever since. “I saw children’s sonorous happiness in an adult man holding in his hands what I did,” says Shuljak. “Until now, it touches me, causes surprise and peace.” Commenting on the purpose of the figures, she added that her animals “do not aspire to the exhibition hall, do not claim to be art. These are just small lumps of joy, carefree second smiles.”

Shuljak teaches classes in Moscow on how to create the toys and also sells them via social media. For more information on upcoming workshops and to meet more of these adorable wool creatures, follow Shuljak on Instagram.

 

 



Animation Craft

Wool Characters Share in Love's Hardships in Stop-Motion Film by Anushka Naanayakkara

December 26, 2019

Grace Ebert

A new stop-motion film chronicles the excitement, messiness, and tragedy of love. Directed by BAFTA-winning animation director Anushka Naanayakkara, “A Love Story” depicts two characters who are made of wool, lace, and other fabric remnants as they navigate an entangled relationship. At the beginning, small pieces of string from each face weave into the other, altering their compositions with every interaction to demonstrate the relationship’s effects. Soon the two become so entwined that their faces exhibit completely different patterns and colors. Lastly, an ambiguous dark force appears to envelope the pair and ultimately severs their tangled bonds.

Although the film features love’s tribulations, the director said she wanted to “bring comfort to audiences who have been through a similar experience” in an interview with Short of the Week. The short film was produced by the National Film and Television School in the UK. More of Naanayakkara’s heartfelt projects can be found on Vimeo. (via Short of the Week)