What ever you do don’t call her a ‘Craftivist’ – The Art of Jess De Wahls
To those on the outside of the textiles industry, traditional handcrafts can conjure mental images of demure, greying ladies sat comfortably by crackling fireplaces, labouring diligently on their William Morris crochet.
However those on the inside have long been aware that needlework, textiles and embroidery have been undergoing a contemporary renaissance. Emerging textile artists using traditional techniques have been pushing political, subversive and countercultural concepts rivalling the work of mainstream artists. The term craftivism was coined by Betsy Greer in 2003 and is defined on wikipedia as ‘typically incorporating elements of anti-capitalism, environmentalism or third-wave feminism, that is centered on practices of craft – or what can traditionally be referred to as “domestic arts”’.
In May 2015 as part of a programme to highlight Textile Artists and their work Hand & Lock approached Jess De Wahls and invited her to display her works.
Berlin born De Wahls moved to London in 2004 and has since become a ‘craftivist’ leading a pro-feminist charge against the status quo. She prefers the unambiguous label of ‘artist’ and believes her work is as good as fine art photography, contemporary sculpture or paint. For her a needle and thread is in no way inferior to a paint brush and paint. When presented with her extensive body of work it’s difficult to disagree.
De Wahls creates recycled textile sculptural portraits of inspirational female figures. Her subjects include Vivienne Westwood, Beyonce, Frida Kahlo, Isabel Allende, Marlene Dietrich and Anna Piaggi. By recycling old textiles De Wahls both subtly highlights our waste culture and ensures her works are, like the women they portray, irreplaceable.
At a technical level embroidery enthusiasts can appreciate De Wahls’ details. Each meticulously detailed work features an array of embroidery techniques including applique, bump work and silk shading along with popular embroidery stitches such as the buttonhole stitch and the satin stitch.
Her previous solo exhibitions include shows at Soho Theatre in 2009, her sell-out show ‘Monsters and Ink’ in 2011 at the Resistance Gallery and in 2014 ‘#bigswingingovaries’, the first major exhibition of Retex-sculpture which was successfully crowd funded.
In 2016 De Wahls pieces can be seen at exhibitions in Boston, Paris and London. Textile feminism never looked so exciting. You can see more of De Wahls Retex Sculptures at jessdewahls.com