A Closer Look at Frieze London 2019: Weaving the Threads of History

Frieze Art Fair 2019, London, UK. Photo by Linda Nylind. Image courtesy of Linda Nylind and Frieze.
The booth of 1335Mabini showing the works of Cian Dayrit at Frieze Art Fair 2019, London, UK. Photo by Linda Nylind. Image courtesy of Linda Nylind and Frieze.
Pacita Abad presented by Silverlens at Frieze Art Fair 2019, London, UK. Photo by Linda Nylind. Image courtesy of Linda Nylind and Frieze.
Mrinalini Mukherjee’s Kusum, in the booth of Nature Morte at Frieze Art Fair 2019, London, UK. Photo by Linda Nylind. Image courtesy of Linda Nylind and Frieze.
José Leonilson, Truth, Fiction, 1990. Image courtesy of Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani.
Installation view of works by Monika Correa in the booth of Jhaveri Contemporary at Frieze Art Fair 2019, London, UK. Photo by Linda Nylind. Image courtesy of Linda Nylind and Frieze.
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Varying from performances and selected emerging artists, to diverse socially engaged projects, Frieze curated sections offer the most enriching experience of the art on display, delivering a context for research-based curatorial narratives amid the commercial aesthetics.

TEXT: Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani
IMAGES: Courtesy of Linda Nylind and Frieze, unless otherwise stated

 

Frieze Art Fair 2019, London, UK. Photo by Linda Nylind. Image courtesy of Linda Nylind and Frieze.

 

Entering Frieze can be daunting, filled with excitement for what each new edition might offer among blockbuster works, new discoveries and experimental practices. While expectations run high, it is hard not to be overwhelmed by the surrounding spectacle: the art itself, but also the art enthusiasts that congregate on preview days in a seeming ritual as if in a place of worship—a holy ground—after all Frieze is one of the most influential art fairs today. With more than 160 galleries from 35 countries featured this year for their 17th edition, Frieze London states this was their most international edition to date. Despite the uncertainties of Brexit just around the corner, galleries reported steady sales throughout the week in the range of US$5000 to US$5,000,000 to both private collectors and international institutions.

Welcoming over 60,000 visitors per year, which include those strictly related to the art world, such as curators, collectors, artists and galleries, as well as art amateurs and the general public, the fair is spread over a large area of London’s Regent’s Park in a purpose-built tent. The fair is relatively easy to navigate according to colour-coded sections of the main galleries, vis-à-vis the smaller booths and curated projects, which are the trademark of Frieze’s boundary-pushing approach to art. Varying from performances and selected emerging artists, titled “LIVE” and “Focus” respectively, to diverse socially engaged projects, these curated sections, I would argue, offer the most enriching experience of the art on display, delivering a context to research-based curatorial narratives amid the commercial aesthetics. These projects are, in fact, specifically devised for the fair by appointed curators, to draw from their strong, research-based practice. “Woven,” curated by Cosmin Costinas, the executive director of Para Site in Hong Kong, features in this year’s themed project.

Exploring textile, weaving and, crucially, the legacy of colonialism, “Woven” compiles eight solo presentations by different galleries, including a few Asian and Southeast Asian artists who in their practice use textiles in various forms from embroidery, collage to three-dimensional pieces. Departing from an art form that has for the longest time been relegated to craft associated with female practice, textile is yet a neglected medium charged with complex political underpinnings especially in relation to the imposed hegemony of the Western art canon over local art practices, the so-called folk art. In this context, a number of works in “Woven” are framed within a decolonialising approach to history, to dismantle what historian and theorist Walter D. Mignolo defines as “coloniality of knowledge” through strands of alternative aesthetics in order to regain a local perspective of art that strides beyond the Western divide.

The booth of 1335Mabini showing the works of Cian Dayrit at Frieze Art Fair 2019, London, UK. Photo by Linda Nylind. Image courtesy of Linda Nylind and Frieze.

 

The works by Filipino artist Cian Dayrit, presented by 1335MABINI (Manila) purports this approach. Featuring a number of self-contained tapestries, part of his Inclemencies of the Tropical Sun series, the works reproduce images of indigenous groups that were archived for anthropological studies. Superimposed on these images are amulets and symbols of local beliefs collaged with provocative notes, in Latin, Filipino and English, the artist makes on the colonial past of the Philippines and the power of cartography. Also politically driven are the large trapunto (quilted) works by the late Pacita Abad (1946–2004), presented by Silverlens (Manila). Leaving behind the Marcos-era Philippines, Abad had migrated to the United States at a young age, an experience that deeply informed her art practice. Of particular mention is a staggering quilt portraying the Statue of Liberty as a woman of colour, thus acknowledging the considerable Asian, African and Latin American immigrants that have passed through the Ellis Island checkpoint. “It is time for this pivotal Filipino artist to garner international attention,” said Isa Lorenzo of Silverlens, proud that Abad’s work is now included in the Tate collection.

Pacita Abad presented by Silverlens at Frieze Art Fair 2019, London, UK. Photo by Linda Nylind. Image courtesy of Linda Nylind and Frieze.

 

In further response to the counter-hegemonic approach to art utilized in “Woven”, several works focused on gender marginalisation and social struggle. Hong Kong-based artist Angela Su, presented by Blindspot Gallery (Hong Kong) references, in her works, the turbulent months of protest and uprising in Hong Kong. Advancing the notion of social schizophrenia and the postcolonial identity of present-day Hong Kong, Su devises Sewing Together My Split Mind, a new series of embroidery accomplished with human hair. Visually, the embroidery resonates with stitches and sutures on mouths, eyelids and female genitalia. In this way, Su shared, “I am able to transform a medium that is considered submissive and domestic into an act of protest and rebellion” against suppression and stigma. Similarly, the fibre art of late Indian artist Mrinalini Mukherjee (1949–2015), presented by Nature Morte (New Delhi), highlights feminine themes and mediums. Informed by her studies in Santiniketan in West Bengal, Mukherjee chanced upon local woven works that sparked her passion in weaving jute and hemp to create powerful wall hangings and sculptures of phallic forms, orifices and enthralling folds. Over the course of her career, she had been able to reclaim a strong female identity through a medium historically considered a female practice and low art. “Woven’s focus on thread and textile,” shared Nature Morte, “is very valuable as it galvanizes the interest of the female audience yet broadening it also to the male audience.” Indeed, gender-focused themes, recurrent in “Woven,” are intended to offer a wider spectrum of possibilities to textile. As Costinas suggested, his objective was not to create a project exclusively on women, which would warrant a separate category, but to challenge the canon by inclusion.

Mrinalini Mukherjee’s Kusum, in the booth of Nature Morte at Frieze Art Fair 2019, London, UK. Photo by Linda Nylind. Image courtesy of Linda Nylind and Frieze.

 

Following closely in this instance were the works of late Brazilian artist José Leonilson (1957–1993), presented by Galeria Marília Razuk (São Paulo), which challenged social oppression in the 1990s through the declarative use of textile. Succumbing to AIDS at the age of 36, in his short life Leonilson left a remarkable social impact and remains a powerful testament to the battle for identity during a time of struggle for the gay community. Manifested through various forms, his embroidery works were mostly developed towards the end of his life, where he often used found textile on which he weaved his personal thoughts as if in a diary. Also engaging with identity politics and female empowerment, are the works of Indian-American artist Chitra Ganesh, presented by Gallery Wendi Norris (San Francisco), featuring large-scale, mixed-media works that include textile.

José Leonilson, Truth, Fiction, 1990. Image courtesy of Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani.

 

However, not every work in “Woven” responds to the medium of textile in the same way. According to Costinas, the objective of the project was to include works that position themselves in different ways regarding this medium. “It is important to bring in differences,” he commented. Indeed, each artist treats textile, and its components, differently, both formally and conceptually. French-Madagascan artist Joël Andrianomearisoa, presented by Primae Noctis (Lugano) used textile, fibre and thread to create abstract works to explore the relation between space and matter. Drawing parallels between Bauhaus geometry and textile, his fabric works form imposing sculptural pieces that play with light, shade and materiality. Represented by Jhaveri Contemporary (Mumbai), Indian artist Monika Correa has been creating compelling, abstract tapestry, displaying laborious workmanship and oftentimes experimental techniques throughout her long career spanning over six decades. Included in Frieze are rare pieces, some of which are produced as early as the 1980s through to recent works. Inspired by the textile and tapestry of saris and carpets on the streets of Mumbai, Correa was further influenced by the Fiber Art Movement which started in the 1960s in the United States. Proponents of the Fibre Art Movement included Marianne Strengell, with whom Correa had contact, Anni Albers and others of Bauhaus beginnings. Correa’s pieces extend from the typical textile works in that they develop beyond the grid-like interlacing of thread, resulting in original patterns that are at times geometric and naturalistic. Similar to Anni Albers, who was featured in a major survey show at the Tate Modern in 2018, Correa’s works have been featured in major museums.

Installation view of works by Monika Correa in the booth of Jhaveri Contemporary at Frieze Art Fair 2019, London, UK. Photo by Linda Nylind. Image courtesy of Linda Nylind and Frieze.

 

Indeed, institutions around the world are becoming inclined to collect and present textile. Along with Mukherjee’s works in the Tate collection, and her recent retrospective titled “Phenomenal Nature: Mrinalini Mukherjee” at the Met Breuer in New York City, the acquisition of Abad’s works by the same British institution leads us to hope that more textile works will enter major collections worldwide. “Woven,” in this sense, paves the way because it not only underlines the relevance of textile in visual art, but also offers the very medium as a powerful platform for broader discourse on colonial and cultural hegemony, of particular relevance at the time UK is going through Brexit negotiations. Despite the pressure that the art world is confronted with in the face of economic and political uncertainty, Frieze has not lost it gloss. Reporting another year of sound success, what makes Frieze unique is its effort to purport commercial aesthetics alongside engaging collaborations with collectors and curators that contribute to contextualize and deliver content and research-based art projects.

 

 


 

Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani is an independent curator, writer and lecturer of Southeast Asian contemporary art. Complemented by continuous dialogue with artists and art professionals, her research and curatorial practice revolve around critical sociopolitical issues in Southeast Asia, advocating a counter-hegemonic and non-Western-centric discourse. Loredana currently curates Diaspora: Exit, Exile, Exodus of Southeast Asia (2018) with MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum, and edited the accompanying publication, a collection of essays that examine art and society at the periphery. Other  recent exhibitions include Heads or Tails? Uncertainties and Tensions in Contemporary Thailand (2017) with Sundaram Tagore Gallery; The Game/Viet Nam by LE Brothers (2016) with Jim Thompson Art Center; and Architectural Landscapes: SEA in the Forefront (2015) with Queens Museum.

 

 
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