Friday, 2 June 2023, 11:18
As soon as you enter the gallery, a knotted fabric from Madagascar crosses your path as though it were a curtain. Your instinct tells you to walk round it rather than touch it since it has all the earmarks of being a work of art.
The artist Sheila Hicks confessed that her objective was to unsettle the visitor. But with this first encounter the American artist has achieved her goal: to put the spectator on guard and have them make an effort to decipher what they see.
What they will see is a remarkable exhibition in which there are no paintings, even though some pieces look like canvases, there are no bronzes even though some are actually 'sculpted' and there are no installations, even though how they have been assembled is no different in some cases.
All these sensations of sculpting, painting and creating have a common thread running through the heart of this exhibition: textiles, with which she has woven her own journey as an artist from small, hand-made pieces to monumental works of contemporary art. There is a second journey here too, illustrating all the contacts this American has had with cultures from all continents and their ways of making rugs and tapestries. These journeys can be viewed now at the Pompidou Centre in Malaga, where her Travelling Threads exhibition stops for a while.
"I travel a lot, but I confess that I am not a tourist, rather I try to communicate in each place," Hicks assured us, adding that for this she uses the "international language of threads" and fabrics. The exhibition is entitled Travelling Threads and is the first exhibition by the artist in Spain, although the Pompidou has previously shown some of her work. This retrospective, on show until September, brings together sixty pieces from the 1960s to the present day in which Hicks - still making art at 89 years old - exhibits her evolution from her small weavings to the most monumental creations, the fruits of keeping in regular contact with how people weave across Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia.
"Our way of dressing defines us," said the artist, giving an example of the universal language of fabric by pointing to an "elegant" garment worn by the director of the Pompidou Centre and head of the public office for municipal museums, José María Luna. The man in question cannot hide his surprise, but then pulls up his trouser leg to reveal a sock bearing the image of a puppy, for which the artist was applauding him.
Travelling Threads by Sheila Hicks
Venue Centre Pompidou Malaga (Muelle Uno, Malaga Port)
Dates Until 10 September
Opening hours 9.30am to 8pm. Closed Tuesdays.
Approachable, spontaneous and fun, Hicks has turned her talk and walk through the exhibition into a practical guide on textile art, switching seamlessly between Spanish and English with some French thrown in. She was once married to a Chilean and she lives in France, which gives us a sense of that multiculturalism that also lives in her art.
She then takes one of the bamboo rods covered with coloured threads from the work The Talking Stick (2020) and, as if it were a baton that granted the power of speech, she hands it to different attendees of the press conference.
The exhibition that starts in Madagascar also passes through Chile with the aforementioned talking stick. Then it takes in prayer rugs from Morocco, placing them on the wall, turning them into "doors to paradise". From Japan it borrows the steel fibres used to weave or wrap horses' tails until the tapestry develops such form that it has become a sculpture.
"I was inspired by a visit to Andalucía where I passed the Mezquita and that is why it is called Cordoba", explained Hicks, handing over the talking stick of twisted threads to the curator Michel Gauthier, who takes the floor to speak of the outstanding contribution to contemporary art made by Hicks.
"Sheila's great journey has been to take textile art from the walls to the floor and to the space between both," reasoned the expert who added that, 50 years ago, such work "was stuck in a box, but now it is regarded as sculpture and Sheila has been playing a fundamental role in that since the second half of the 20th century".
Gauthier has chosen travel as the leitmotif for this exhibition "because it is such a central theme in her work". Ever since she started her journey through Latin America in the 1950s, travel has transformed her way of viewing the world and art. "If you would allow me to say so, you left as a painter of fine art, but after that trip you decided to dedicate yourself to textiles and turn it into a grand material", he stated. Just like Cordes Sauvages (Wild Ropes), a 'tapestry' totally free of the wall and whose jungle-like form creates a sense of being both a sculpture and an art installation. "It's alive", are the closing words of the curator, using the power of the talking stick.
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