Welcome to #amplifymelanatedstitchers, where we feature needlework and textile art by Black or Indigenous People of Colour.
Marcia Bennett-Male is a mixed media artist from London whose work in textiles explores her experiences as a black female and the social and emotional currents that have influenced that position.
“My textile pieces are art therapy, cathartic, autobiographical, they put a visual to my thoughts and experiences. The pieces look at depression, suicide, self harm, self hatred and how I navigate through the world as a black female. The work also depicts black women from history, previously poorly documented, alongside fantastical goddesses of myth and legend.“
At first glance you may mistake Marcia’s work as simplistic characterisation with chintzy fabrics, but there is far more beneath the surface…
How or where did you learn how to stitch or sew?
My mother was a dressmaker, when she first arrived in England in the 50’s she was in the tailoring trade in the East End of London. She moved over into dressmaking within the trade and as a home sewer. I grew up with women coming in and out of the house for fittings and/or bringing bags of fabric. I went with her every weekend to buy fabric or haberdashery. She had just started evening classes at The London School of Fashion before she had me. My secondary school was an all girls one, back then you had cooking and sewing lessons.
Do formal concerns, such as perspective and art history, interest you?
Do I lean on art history, definitely. I’ve done some textiles working with 18th century Dutch and Spanish still life paintings of which I am a fan. I look to the unearthed art history of black people, how we have been depicted. Or not.
To what extent does your cultural background influence your work?
My cultural background is 50% of what my work is about. The other 50% is about being a black female, with that cultural background, residing and navigating through another.
Do you have an existing embroidery heritage that you connect with?
I did ‘O’ and ‘A’ level embroidery at school. As part of that we obviously worked in theory and practice on the history of embroidery. I studied ecclesiastical embroidery. I’m not interested in elaborate stitching for my work. It’s about the image not the technique.
What other artists inspire you?
Francis Bacon, for the raw, seemingly almost kinetic look of his brushstrokes. C18th still life paintings, for the dark, calm but sinister aspect. Along with the multitude of symbolism in them. Kara Walker, just because her work is scary, take-no-prisoners! She’ll cut you with her work, and you won’t even know it until you’ve lost a pint of blood. Fante Asafo flag makers of Ghana, for their complete abandonment with fabric, colour and shapes. Deborah E. Roberts, because she makes me sad, her portraits demand that you stop and look them in the eye. Frida Kahlo for inspiring me to ‘put-it-out-there’.
Do you have any secrets in your work you will tell us? And are there any creative connections between your work in textile and in stone?
If you’re asking in regards to the execution of the work, no secrets. If you’re referring to hidden meaning, again no. I use my textiles to get it all out there.
Creative connections. No as yet. I’ve contemplated it, but if the merging of the two mediums is not a natural one, I’m not going to force it. They are very much separate. I tend to use the textiles to vent, to calm, to right a wrong, and to inform, sometimes to rest my eyes and brain from the carving. Carving is work, it’s about selling, earning a living. I don’t care if I sell the textiles, obviously it’s great if someone loves a piece enough to part with hard earned money. What’s important is that the image is out there in the world, even if it’s only via social media and jostling for viewing with millions of other images. Someone might see it and connect.
It’s interesting to observe Marcia’s relationship with the formality of ecclesiastical embroidery and how her artwork found it’s voice when she relaxed away from those standards. To me this echoes the overarching storylines of black culture within colonial history and the restrictions that have reframed that context to suit the dominant narrative. Undoubtedly Marcia’s work would have been fantastic in whichever form she chose, as reflected in her stonework, however her textile work is a reflection on history and struggle and her personal fight within that sphere and it’s interesting that the very character of her art is born from a different struggle.
In the same way that soft media are used to explore hard topics, the immediate simplicity of Marcia’s work takes the edge off the content, allowing the viewer time to actually connect with the work; a more realistic presentation of the concepts might frighten people off – rightly so – but Marcia’s characters act as an analgesic while simultaneously pointing out the historical caricatures that have been used in the past.
By taking time to work through Marcia’s Instagram, you can see the work unfold, but you also learn more of the tales she tells – tales of loss, pain and struggle but also of strength, of aspiration and of dignity. Marcia re-creates Goddesses and shares her inner aspirations. She lays her soul bare and invites everyone to meet her.
Marcia Bennett-Male is a masterful storyteller and the contrast between the rawness of her textile pieces and the weight refinement of her stonework is truly remarkable, as it highlights the confidence with which she pulls apart the status quo and pokes holes in the predominant version of events.
Are you a BIPOC artist working in needlecraft or Textile Art? Get in touch so we can share your work!