Queer Lives and Art: Radical Textiles

Queer Lives and Art: Radical Textiles 

Location: Woodfield Pavilion, Tooting Common, SW17 8JU 

Artists: Colin Lievans, Eleanor Louise West, Joe Lawn, Al Hill, Sarah Joy Ford, Raisa Kabir, Diogo Duarte, Pear Nuallak, Mark Goldby and Sadé Mica. 

Opening night: 6-8.30pm 9th June. Please book via eventbrite. 

Exhibition continues: 10th-12th June



Shed Project presents Queer Lives and Art: Radical Textiles, a four-day exhibition and public programme exploring queer expression through textile art over the past half-century. Held over 9 – 12th June 2022, the project coincides with the 50th anniversary of Pride in London. 

Textiles hold the ability to share stories, personal narratives, and form communities. Prior to industrialisation, creating textiles was a slow, meditative practice, as well as a practical one. Often, the production of a significant piece could involve a whole community. This communal knotting, knitting and weaving, where single strands join to form a stronger whole, is a powerful expression of solidarity. For this reason, textiles have played a vital role as a solidifier of identity and community in the history of LGBTQIA+ art practices. Of course, the importance of these analogue practices continue today, carrying expressions of solidarity and anti-capitalist connotations. Through a generative collaborative space where artwork will be made as well as viewed, Queer Lives and Art looks to reflect the radicality and resistance at the heart of queer textile practices. 

The collaboratively-made piece, Transition Quilt (2020-ongoing) by Colin Lievans, Eleanor Louise West, Joe Lawn and Al Hill exemplifies this. Originally made to mark the medical transition milestones of its creators, the quilt is communally added to with leftover fabric from previously-made textile works and the pre-transition clothing of its creators. Crucially, Transition Quilt is unfinished. The artists therefore present transitioning as a constant process rather than

a journey with a finite end. The quilt becomes an ongoing archive of friendship, community, and change. 

Continuing these themes, Colin Lievans, Eleanor Louise West, Joe Lawn and Al Hill will lead two workshops for Queer Lives and Art: Radical Quilt-Making. The artists will guide participants through creating a patch which will be sewn together to form a collaborative quilt, documenting personal experience and allyship across Wandsworth’s LGBTQIA+ community. On 11th June, there will be an in-person workshop followed by an online workshop on 12th June. After the artists have patched the quilt together, it will be unveiled in a special celebratory event on Sunday 26th June. 

The historical relevence of queer textile art is continued in Sarah Joy Ford’s Maps to Lesbian Utopia (2021). Hung as a pair of digitally printed silk scarves, each depicts maps found in the Lesbian Archive Collection at Glasgow Women’s Library: Lesbian Land and Lambeth Women’s Walk. Through recording places and events with continued relevance to Lesbian histories, the scarves are souvenirs which express the importance of self-organisation in marginalised communities. By recording these histories on silk scarves, Ford reclaims femme aesthetics as a powerful narrative tool that is resistant to gendered marginalisation. It must be mentioned the works also challenge the appropriation of the original Lesbian History Group by a trans-exclusionary group of the same name. Ford’s work reclaims lesbian history as a tool to build a queer future. 

Pear Nuallak’s textile triptych WE KEEP US SAFE (2021) further expresses this resistance to marginalisation. Rather than taking up vast amounts of space, Nuallak’s work revolts in its own way. The pieces in We KEEP US SAFE are small – measuring ~90mm wide and ~100mm high – they are intricate, and employ a myriad of textile art skills to create. Through their tiny size, the works expose white-walled gallery spaces as voids to be filled by the labour of artists. WE KEEP US SAFE does not belong in such a gallery. It instead requires a gentle eye, inviting the viewer to look closer, creating a sense of intimacy. Made with the knowledge that these spaces don’t create themselves, Nuallak’s work highlights the need for inclusivity within LGBTQIA+ communities, however big or small. 

Textile art as provocation is clear in Raisa Kabir’s NO PROTECTION (2020). Consisting of six tufted woollen yarn rugs, the work mourns the repeated failings of those meant to protect us – our families, police, the government. The pieces’ threads hang loose, the letters are blurred slightly; it disrupts normative notions of care. Created in 2020, the work has taken on new meaning in the context of a global pandemic, which exposed societal failings to care for queer disabled people. In queer communities, relationships of protection and care often have to be found and created, there is no prerequisite. Kabir asks: “What does it mean to Mother as a verb, as an action?” Made along with Fabric of Society, a collective of four diasporic artists of colour, the work addresses Kabir’s question: it means to care, to nurture, and to create. 

Brown Puffa Binder (2019) by Sadé Mica addresses experiences of navigating the world between and within intersections of identity. Being a wearable piece, Mica’s binder calls for

gender non-conformity to exist beyond stealth and to embrace visibility. Brown Puffa Binder, sewn in a shiny brown puffer fabric, rejects the expectation of queer discreetness – an expectation placed especially on trans people of colour. Chest binding can also be physically painful and assumed to be a practice to help transgender “pass” as cis-gendered people. Mica’s comfortable and wearable work, however, is a powerful expression of identity which rejects the binary, cis-het approach to gender completely. 

Mark Goldby’s Amazing Pride (2021) use words inspired by local history research of a queer activists who lived in Croydon. It establishes the importance of LGBTQIA+ archives in enriching our understanding of local histories and diversifying our impression of what historical research can look like. Originally made as a series of three, the hand-embroidered triangles take their shape from the pale pink triangle symbol for Croydon Pride 1993. The pink triangle is itself a symbol reappropriated from Nazi concentration camps, where gay prisoners were forced to wear them. Since then, the symbol has been reclaimed as an act of pride and a reminder to never forget the past. This is further seen in the cushion’s text. Lyrics adapted from the Christian hymn Amazing Grace, Goldby claims the song as a powerful statement of queer pride. Amazing Pride expresses the ability of queer textiles to upcycle tradition whilst reworking our understanding of the present. 

Diogo Duarte’s Contract (Signed by Satanas, Beelzebub, Lucifer, Elimi, Leviathan, Astaroth and others) (2022) reflects on queer defiance – presenting a non-hierachical map of pacts in queer histories, with several concurrent paths. The arriaiolos (a medieval Portuguese tapestry) features imagery from the 1635 alleged pact signed between French priest Urbain Grandier and several demonic entities, court evidence against alleged witch Elizabeth Clarke, and gay cruising grounds in Europe. Together these histories maps temporal spaces where contracts, trauma and sex are negotiated. Reflecting on experiences living in Wandsworth, Edinburgh and Portugal, Duarte combines Illustration, google street view screenshots, photography and mediaeval iconography. 

Queer Lives and Art: Fungus Press 

Shed Project is proud to be collaborating with Turf Projects in an offshoot of the exhibition Queer Lives and Art: Fungus Press, which will be displayed all through June. Fungus Press consists of 5 sites across various public spaces in Croydon. Each site features a wooden board that Turf regularly commissions artists to install site-specific works. 

This offshoot of QLAA investigates the innate narrativity of textile art and its importance in queer histories. Both textile and text originate from the Latin word, texere, meaning ‘to weave.’ This connection is clear in historical textile practices, such as embroidery, book-binding, and tapestry-making. In terms of narrativity in queer textile art, messages have been historically coded for the protection of makers or wearers. Queer Lives and Art: Fungus Press highlights the historical importance of these practices by showcasing the textual elements of textile art.

Queer Lives and Art: Radical Textiles is funded by Wandsworth Art Fringe and Art Council England.