Unravel: The Power and Politics of Textiles in Art

Steve Russell


Barbican Art Gallery, Level 3, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS
13 February 2024 – 26 May 2024

Unravel: The Power and Politics of Textiles in Art brings together over one hundred artworks by fifty international practitioners, covering the period from the 1960s to the present day. ‘Unravel’ sits happily in the gallery spaces, the textiles beautifully heightened and contrasted by the Barbican concrete. There are six themes – ‘Subversive Stitch’, ‘Fabric of Everyday Life’, Borderlands’, ‘Bearing Witness’, ‘Wound and Repair’ and ‘Ancestral Threads’. 

Based on his exploration of ‘desire lines’ it’s a pleasure to walk through Igshaan Adams installation, 2024, he uses wood, plastic, glass, stone, shells, fabrics, various ropes and twines.

A small, arched, fabric figure hangs and gently spins in mid air casting a shadow. This is Arch of Hysteria, 2000, by Louise Bourgeois. The suspended, scarred figure suggesting the supposed physical symptom of hysteria. A very beguiling and rather sad piece.

Multiple ghost heads peer out of Phasing (Flow), 2017, by Kevin Beasley. He uses housedresses, kaftans and durags all cast in resin, shaped by his own body. They are accompanied by sounds from a different part of the gallery. Who were the missing persons? A haunting and distressing piece. 

The Day, 2021, by T. Vinoja, stitches on fabric form borders, routes, checkpoints and burial sites, an aerial textile map informed by the Sri Lankan Civil War. Vinoja draws parallels between the vernacular of maps with ideas of loss and relocation.

Hammock (part of 4 Hammocks), 1999-2003, by Solange Pessoa. Resembling bodily forms, multiple fabric bags, stained by the Brazilian orange soil they are filled with, hang in hammock form. Could they be body parts, in Brazil cadavers are often transported in hammocks. 

Judy Chicago’s Birth Project (1980-85), was created as a response to the lack of images of birth in Western art. Birth Tear/Tear, 1982, was embroidered on silk by Jane Gaddie Thompson. A textile piece that has lost none of its original power.

Unravel is full of works both large and small, each with such detail that benefit from close examination. The accompanying text affords comprehensive background to artworks commonly steeped in cultural and political ideas.

Ecology Unravel 01 Igshaan Adams
Ecology Unravel 04 Solange Pessoa Hammocks 1999 2003
Ecology Unravel Steve Russell louise L and map R

Steve Russell

is a

Guest Contributor for Panorama.

Steve Russell, artist. Dealing with issues of self, identity and symbols through the medium of paint, ephemera and other drawing materials. My practice is a figurative style that marries diverse elements into an instantly recognizable, idiosyncratic idiom that is at times touching, dramatic and visceral. Using line and dramatically visceral expressive colour, I produce images that manage to be optimistic and intriguing, even in seemingly mundane or problematic contexts.


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