What is a thread anyway? It can be a thin, fine cord of natural or synthetic fiber, created for use in textiles. But it can also be a narrow, continuous strand of something else, such as a “thread of light” or a “thread of execution,” in computer science speak. In social media, a thread begins with a thought or an idea as an initial message, continuing on through the comments that follow. At the intersection of this broad set of conceptual definitions, the essence of a “thread” is both connection and continuation.
Throughout history, women have been interconnected within the medium of textiles—weaving, sewing, embroidery, knitting, beading, spinning, dyeing fabrics and other such tasks. These actions of artistic creation have long provided an intergenerational thread among women. I recall my own mother having an interesting variety of fabrics on hand, which she used to make everything from matching dresses and nightgowns for my sister and I, to reupholstered furnishings and other home decor. We relished using the remnants to make things for our dolls and stuffed animals. When I became a mom, I continued that thread, making baby blankets, summer play clothes for my daughters, and costumes for school plays, dress-up, and Halloween. And now my grown daughters connect to our shared past through sewing, knitting, and crocheting.
I was reminded of these experiences recently upon viewing an exhibition at the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art at UNLV. Common Threads, curated by Ashanti McGee, encompasses the idea of a continuous strand between the past and present, interweaving global diversity of cultures and peoples. This thread is not “common” in the way of being mundane or ordinary, but “common” in the way of belonging equally to, or being shared alike by two or more, or all. Discerning viewers may find these commonalities, both tangible and intangible, that remind us of these ties. The show comprises work by nine womxn artists with cultural roots reaching around the globe, bringing textile creations beyond the boundaries of utility and into the realm of conceptual art.
Among the artworks to consider, conceptual artist Yacine Tilala Fall presents the striking work Self Portrait (Jigéen, Jabar, Yaye, Ndey), 2021, a hand sewn Senegalese mask made with fabrics dyed using turmeric, lemon, and honey. Given the current pandemic, one imagines being behind this mask, peering out through lacy eye openings in place of the artist.
Interdisciplinary performance artist Adriana Chavez sews together a meandering composition of numerous made and found objects in “Finding My Light,” 2021. This large-scale artwork surely offers a thread of connection for every viewer, knitting together food packages, patterns, sewing pins and embroideries, along with leaves, flowers, seed pods, papers, plastics, yarns, and more.
Korean American illustration artist Lyssa Park contributes intriguing compositions by stitching together paper and gold leaf as a window into her heritage in such artworks Family Tree (male) and Family Tree (female) 2020.
German-born Turkish artist Desire Moheb-Zandi uses her loom to weave Not Afraid of Love, 2021, extending beyond traditional materials and form, yet remaining firmly connected to her past. Each artist also offers a meaningful quote, casting a thread of light on their personal perspective.
The works mentioned are just a sampling of those included, along with a few thoughts brought to mind while viewing the show. Others will naturally engage from the platform of their own experiences, perhaps discovering a visual sampling of threads that weave human experience within the fabric of our shared past and present—a very welcome thought in the world today.
A Common Thread, curated by Ashanti McGee and presented by the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art and the Las Vegas Womxn of Color Arts Festival, is on view at the Barrick through July 2. Admission is free, and reservations are strongly encouraged.
Cover image: “Family Tree (female)” by Lyssa Park, photo: Melisa Christ