Billie Zangewa’s Tableaus of Togetherness

SANTA FE — Billie Zangewa came to use textiles as her creative material out of resourcefulness and necessity. It was a medium that she could work with and store in small spaces. The way that light played with raw silk intrigued her, and she was taken with it as a material born from literal transformation — extracted as threads from the larvae cocoons of silk moths. “That which I was seeking was seeking me; I just had to show up,” she conveyed in an interview with SITE curator Brandee Caoba.

Field of Dreams, her latest exhibition, currently on view at SITE Santa Fe, pulses with themes of chosen family, love for one’s child, and reflections on the many selves that we have inhabited. The gallery space consists of mostly large, intricately hand-stitched collages hanging freely on the walls, which viewers can inspect closely enough to see the fabric move in response to their breath. Unique to Zangewa’s work is her tendency to cut out swaths of fabric from compositions, often echoing the negative space in other pieces on display from which one piece was cut to create another. 

The most striking of these, “A Place in the Sun,” is a mural-sized beach scene on aureate backing. Zangewa and her son are minimally shown in the middle ground but obscured by undulating sand dunes in hues of gold, brown, and copper. The smallest sliver of ocean seeps in from a fist-sized area on the edge of the frame. She’s cut two thirds of the composition dramatically away on the left, leaving the shocking white of the gallery wall to interrupt the serenity of the scene, and the narrative reading of the viewer. 

“The negative space is a rupture,” Zangewa has said. “It’s like the wound that we all carry around inside of us — to different degrees and for different reasons, but we all have them. It’s usually our wounds that lead us to our edge, where we can do something really incredible.”

A notable departure from the larger scenes is a series of 12 portraits that sit opposite a wall of irregularly shaped and antiqued beveled mirrors, creating a play of seeing oneself against the tapestry of faces as you try to engage both works at once. Together, they constitute the titular work. The faces depict those emotionally closest to the artist. “It’s my wish for the world,” Zangewa said of the title, “where we all live in harmony as one community, instead of all the things that we do to one another because of cultural difference.”

Can textile art transcend two dimensions? Zangewa’s collages incorporate frayed cut-out shapes, values layered atop one another that create movement and dimensionality, all hand stitched together. Noticing a pin that’s been left in a cut-out shape in “Under African Skies,” I think of how, like Zangewa’s Field of Dreams, the tableaus of our lives are stitched together with intention and memory.

Billie Zangewa: Field of Dreams continues at SITE Santa Fe (1606 Paseo De Peralta, Santa Fe, New Mexico) through February 12. The exhibition was curated by Brandee Caoba.

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