Barbican Gallery. Unravel: Textile in Art.


Fashion | May 9, 2024 |

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Image Courtesy of Barbican Gallery

Unravel: The Power and Politics of Textiles in Art
Barbican Art Gallery, London, UK
February 13 – May 26, 2024

Opening on 13 February 2024, Unravel: The Power and Politics of Textiles in Art will shine a light on artists from the 1960s to today who have explored the transformative and subversive potential of textiles, harnessing the medium to ask charged questions about power: who holds it, and how can it be challenged and reclaimed? Spanning intimate hand- crafted pieces to large-scale sculptural installations, this major exhibition will bring together over 100 artworks by 50 international practitioners. Drawn to the tactile processes of stitching, weaving, braiding, beading and knotting, these artists have embraced fibre and thread to tell stories that challenge power structures, transgress boundaries and reimagine the world around them.

Textiles weave through our everyday lives yet remain one of the most underexamined mediums in art history and contemporary practice. The universality of fabric has made it a potent messenger across global contexts – whether communicating personal stories or conveying hidden messages. Embedded in a single thread is the material history of the medium, revealing ideas relating to gender, labour, value, ecology, ancestral knowledge, and histories of oppression, extraction and trade.

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Image Courtesy of Barbican Gallery

Organised thematically, with artists placed in intergenerational and transcultural dialogues, Unravel: The Power and Politics of Textiles in Art considers the various ways in which artists have used textiles to speak to stories of marginalisation and exclusion, as well as emancipatory joy and transcendence. The show’s earliest works were created in the 1960s, when many artists were pushing the sculptural boundaries of the medium and challenging the limiting parameters of ‘fine art’ and ‘craft’. Expanding across both time and geography, the exhibition will present six themes – ‘Subversive Stitch’, ‘Fabric of Everyday Life’, ‘Borderlands’, ‘Bearing Witness’, ‘Wound and Repair’ and ‘Ancestral Threads’ – which together explore the role of textiles in artistic practices that challenge dominant narratives, push up against regimes of power, and manifest an enduring spirit of hope.

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Image Courtesy of Barbican Gallery

Shanay Jhaveri, Head of Visual Arts, Barbican, said: “We are delighted to be opening our 2024 season with Unravel: The Power and Politics of Textiles in Art. This truly expansive show weaves together an international, intergenerational array of artists and artworks, bound by their engagement with the practice of textiles – at once intimate and capacious in its reach across cultures, geographies, and ages. From the minutiae of daily life to the global movement of peoples, the vast scope of this exhibition speaks to the international ambitions of the Barbican Visual Arts programme, as well as to our work closer to home, where the threads of our arts offering unspool beyond the confines of the gallery walls and into our public spaces.”

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Image Courtesy of Barbican Gallery

Guided by artworks that are radical in their form and their politics, the exhibition sets out to ask why textiles are a particularly resonant medium to address ideas of gender and sexuality, the movement and displacement of people, and histories of extraction and violence, as well as understanding the world through connecting with ancestral practices and communing with nature. The exhibited artworks encompass a wide range of forms, scales and techniques, drawing on historic forms of making as well as new and experimental processes.

This exhibition is co-curated by the Barbican, London and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, where it will be on show from 14 September 2024 to 5 January 2025.


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Image Courtesy of Barbican Gallery

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