Fabric as Language: Thought Threads at San Mei Gallery

Thursday 22nd October, 2020

By Mazzy-Mae Green

Thought Threads is an exhibition of textile-based artworks by emerging artists Nour Jaouda, Emily Moore and Gal Lesham. The show dialogues the potential of fabric to convey discussions that go beyond the verbal, in a presentation that manages to resist the often-kitsch nature of material pieces shown in domestic settings. Across works by the three artists, ephemeral subjects such as the incommensurable space between languages, and the articulation of internal feelings to an outside audience meld, and the place of textiles within fine art is explored.

If the exhibition is a work of language, then Lesham is its semiotician. The artist concerns herself directly and explicitly with the significance of history and collective memory within the construction of visual culture. She looks at how meaning is built and digested differently by various local identities. In Dragon in Adrianople Red (2020), a multi-work installation consisting of three large print works, and seven meeple-esque statuettes, Lesham employs shades of pink, red and yellow across banners that tower over its disciples. Adrianople, now Edirne in northwestern Turkey, was the site of a battle in 378 AD that is often considered the beginning of the end of the Western Roman Empire. Speaking on the historically bound colours that punctuate the piece, Lesham says: “In the last couple of years, I have been working with natural dyes a lot. This started as just a way to get the colour I wanted, but more recently I started researching the history of the dyes, so everything became about the material. [...] I feel my process is to identify the shapes that this specific material has taken in the past and expose them.” With this in mind, the complex history of Adrianople red, a colour connected to empire, colonialism and printed textiles, becomes a focus of contemplation within the piece.

Similarly, Nour Jaouda is driven by the tactility of constructing and destabilising cultural motifs. She uses personal and prosthetic memories in her textural pieces, layering them in order to transpose a feeling, or representation, of the migratory experience. In the way it hangs from its sloping pole, Dust to Rust (2020) might be a dripping curtain, strangely dirty in blue and gold, with its dual-coloured tassels. It has an emotional sheen, and a commanding presence, striking in its flatness against the other works. In a discussion on narrative as it pertains to the process of making, and to the materiality of a piece, Jaouda brings in site specificity: “The questions about what form it can take or what I want to tell using that piece straddles the external space it is being shown in and internal space of the material.” That’s evident here: the fireplace and wooden doorframe of San Mei’s once domestic space frame the work in a certain way. Not only does it feel personal, connected to an interior world, but it also wavers between a 2D painting and a sculpture, depending through which mind-set the viewer looks out onto it.

In a dialogue more heavily grounded in materiality, Moore’s two embroidered wall-works sit in contrast to Lesham’s and Jaouda’s pieces, with their emphasis on the potential of fabric to convey atmosphere and emotion when words fail. The artist distorts the techniques of traditional embroidery, making them rugged through the blending of materials and colours that resist the rug-makers rulebook, instead opting for wonky figuration enhanced by expressive gestural work. Referencing these two pieces and the process of making them, Moore speaks of “an agency and a real urge to push and pull through the material.” In Black Woman and Child (2020), a piece on the Black Lives Matter movement, the artist outlines two forms connected seemingly by hands held, before encircling them in a chaotic blend of orange, white and blue wool that serves to blanket the image, covering it in an emotive haze; the air in the image is as thick as sun rising from city concrete. A central force in underlining the warmth that radiates from this show.

Thought Threads is on show at San Mei Gallery, London, until 31st October