My image of fabric art has been clouded by vague impressions of shaggy rug hangings, unsatisfying yarny concoctions, and heaps of twine or rope symbolizing something or other. But that all changed when I went to Stitch by Stitch, an exhibition of Japanese fabric artists at the Teien Art Museum (one of my favorites in Tokyo).
For starters, I saw that the use of fabric could be as incomprehensible as any of the finest in abstract impressionism. That pieces of clothing could be so laden with decoration that it would firmly cross over from fashion into art, like the ominous bejeweled cape that was in a dimly lit room. Or that it could literally envelop the viewer in sheer bright red curtains of knotted lace.
One artist combined my love of maps with wandering around neighborhoods. She embroidered objects she found on walks through cities into large maps. That was cool.
The clear star of the exhibition is Asami Kiyokawa. She stitches in beads into photographs that are mural size. The pictures I’ve posted here do not do it justice. You can’t see the meticulously crafted details. In the Complex series, the beads, glitter, sequins and other pieces of fabric and cloth are lusciously made into, among other things, insects and other small creatures.
The panels of the Complex series touch on aspects of body and self image: hair, skin, voice, heart and greed. They don’t go far very in the way of critically examining the politics of body image and women. Rather, they are just beautiful works of art. The artist is, after all, a former model and current fashion photographer.
There are a few subversive elements to the artwork. The pieces seem to be poking fun at some aspects of fashion magazines by juxtaposing a larger body on the model in one of the panels, or portraying hair that is decomposing into bugs. The effect is that the glittery beads and sequins serve to both glamorize and contain the woman. The use of nudes also show the vulnerability of the model.
To get a better look, check out Kiyokawa’s website by clicking on this sentence.
If you’re in Tokyo, I highly recommend the exhibit for anyone who wants to be challenged by contemporary art that goes beyond bronze and oil paints. Plus, you get to see the exhibit in an Art Deco architectural masterpiece. I sometimes get distracted by the detailing of the building itself.
Visitors can get a 100 yen discount for wearing something that is hand-embroidered. For the museum site click on this sentence.