Common Threads at Aweipo Gallery – Until 30th January 2010, Crane Village (Review: Stella L. Hackett – BFA Textiles, Cert Ed., MA Arts Administration)

I love textiles. There is something so captivating and empowering about the ability to weave and knit delicate yarns into robust surfaces; to transform a surface from bright white into vibrant colourful pattern; to cut, stitch, fray and appliqué; and to manipulate fabrics into three dimensional forms. Thus, it gives me great pleasure to play a part in “Common Threads” by writing this review.

Textiles originated from basic human needs – clothing and shelter. The attention to aesthetics seems to have developed shortly after: “It is believed that variety in design and the desire for enhancement of the created object followed closely upon invention of fabric”, and thus function was married with beauty (Held, S. 1978). For this exhibition, Ayissa Burnett, Margaret Herbert, Shelah McGrath, and Christine Kumchy were challenged by the curator, Juliana Inniss, to test the boundaries of this “marriage”. Within the Barbadian context, where there is no significant textile industry, this initiative is especially admirable.

Ayissa Burnett's "Morning Sun",  a mixed media piece with tie-dye, batik on cotton, and raw silk with leather cord and calabash.
Ayissa Burnett’s “Morning Sun”, a mixed media piece with tie-dye, batik on cotton, and raw silk with leather cord and calabash. CLICK ON IMAGE FOR FULL SIZE

According to my research the term “tie-dye” is often used as an umbrella term for a myriad of dyeing techniques, perhaps because no English translations could be found for them all. Tie-dye, in its simplest form, is an extremely old and popular resist dyeing process. Sources suggest that it originated in India. In Barbados, Ayissa Burnett’s name is synonymous with tie-dye and over the years her work has progressed consistently. Whilst her customary line of soft furnishings is strong and her batik lengths are beautiful, in this new body of work she has dared to test her design skills to create hangings, like Morning Sun. This piece is a sincere exploration of balance, texture, and colour. She naively combined various marks and surfaces to produce pleasing compositions. But I think her strongest skills here are her fearless use of unexpected colours and tints as they appear almost accidentally from her dyeing processes, and her combination of multiple surface design and off-loom techniques (including tie-dye, batik, stamping, and pulling threads) into one composition.

Shelah McGrath is also great with colour. She often employs popular complimentary colour schemes, but she uses them effectively. Her meticulous needlework skills are noteworthy, especially in her large pieces like Heywood Sunset. This patchwork quilt is impressive: the countless pieces of fabric; the quality of needlework; and the mesmerizing gradations – slow transitions from one colour to the next, and from light to dark. I also appreciate her attempts to avoid repeat patterns typical of quilting and I enjoy her playful geometric interpretations of plant life.

Fibre art or construction is a field that has hardly been explored or marketed in Barbados. Internationally though, it is established and growing, and the works clearly cross the line between craft and art. Artists like Cristina Iglesias and Yayoi Kusama adopt textile techniques to transform spaces with grand installations of braided fibre and “soft sculptures” (respectively); some textile designers are combining new technologies and materials with the old; while some established fibre artists still use basic traditional techniques to create contemporary freestanding forms. Margaret is not working in large scale, neither is she using state of the art technology, in fact she is working the surface primarily by hand. Still it is my opinion that pieces like Harvest Moon, could be considered as fibre art because she created reliefs with the couching and beading, and the fabric is no longer flat, it seems to come alive. The motifs are also quite mystical. I think this series has potential for Margaret and Barbados’ fledgling textile community.

Margaret Herbert's "Harvest Moon", mixed media work which is deep dyed (dyed several times) and the surface is enhanced with dyed jute cord, beading and machine embroidery.
Margaret Herbert’s “Harvest Moon”, mixed media work which is deep dyed (dyed several times) and the surface is enhanced with dyed jute cord, beading and machine embroidery. CLICK ON IMAGE FOR FULL SIZE

Also worthy of mentioning is Margaret’s reverse appliqué (or cutwork) series, an exploration of the Panamanian traditional mola work for which the Kuna Indians have gained historical international recognition. She didn’t repeat the traditional Kuna motifs and vibrant palettes, instead she told her own story and incorporated new elements such as transparency.

"Turtles" by Christine Kumchy is created by an ancient Japanese resist technique called "Shibori" CLICK ON IMAGE FOR FULL SIZE

"Turtles" by Christine Kumchy is created by an ancient Japanese resist technique called "Shibori" CLICK ON IMAGE FOR FULL SIZE

When I first saw Christine’s work, I was amazed. I seldom have the opportunity to inspect such intricate and exact tritik up close. Tritik, a specific shibori technique, is also known as stitch-resist and it allows the artisan to design and produce very specific markings. As illustrated in Christine’s pieces, every line and shape is the direct result of a purposeful stitch. It is also ironic, and perhaps clever, that she worked primarily in a navy blue very similar to the historically significant indigo dye. Despite the difference in cultures, materials, and motifs used, her work immediately reminded me of the Yoruban Adire cloths. I am looking forward to seeing more of Christine’s work. I believe that she should continue by developing her astoundingly accurate repeating patterns into exclusive lines of fabric, textiles that are both functional and beautiful.

Common Threads, is an exhibition of work by women who share a love for textiles and yet their collections differ greatly. Christine and Ayissa both employ resist dyeing techniques while Margaret and Shelah share a passion for sophisticated needlework, but their palettes and scale are easily distinguishable. They all share familiar ingredients, such as materials, environments, and culture, but their solutions are anything but common.

Location of Aweipo & Its Purpose

The Aweipo Gallery is a sophisticated, well equipped 630 square foot art space, located in the beautifully re-created 18th century townscape of the Crane Village, at the Crane St Philip.

Aweipo (pronounced A –wee- po) is an indigenous Carib word which means a place of beautiful light and to illuminate. It is taken from the Kalinago people (a small remaining group of Amerindians that once populated the region).

Our gallery is dedicated to the promotion and sale of both Barbadian and Caribbean Art. We are deeply committed to building awareness and appreciation for all forms of art, and as a result we exhibit and represent a group of artists producing a comprehensive collection of works in all media– painting, textiles, sculpture, works on paper, ceramics, and photography, as well as multimedia installations.

Our primary activity is to mount and exhibit works of art for sale, however artwork rentals can be negotiated and the gallery space is also available for rent for small corporate and intimate events.

Aweipo is open everyday from 10 am to 6pm. All are welcome! To contact us you may call 271-2839, or email us at

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