Due to its perceived link to female domesticity, textile art has faced neglect. Photo:Parker Townes.
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Three U of O students advocate for textile art at Gallery 115

When you think of art, you may conjure up an idea of a painting, sculpture, or even a tapestry, but, chances are, you didn’t think of textiles weaved together—and three University of Ottawa students have a theory for that.

On Nov. 13, three visual arts students sought to help change the textile narrative, as they welcomed guests to Gallery 115 for their vernissage of Playing with Needles.

“We created the show around the fact that we were all working around with textiles,”explained Ella Wright, a fourth-year student at the U of O. “Textiles have had a (checkered) history in the art world—because textiles are associated with women—they were often considered a lower medium, and (lacked) much of a place in (the) fine art (world).”

“Working with textiles is a very political thing in the fine art world, and we are kind of contesting that it should be considered a high medium,” she continued.

Indeed, the pieces that Wright has selected for Playing with Needles focus on the treatment of women over the course of history.

“The piece I created first was the Invisible Lady, which draws strongly from the language and the history of quilting,” she explained. “The structure (of the art was) derived from the log-cabin quilt block.”

The title, Invisible Lady, comes from the nickname that Sir John A. Macdonald gave to his wife who was diagnosed with hysteria—a fictional illness that was only diagnosed in women.

Despite facing criticism in other parts of the art world, Wright noted that the U of O had been welcoming to their new ideas. “Our profs have been encouraging and open-minded,” she explained.

For Mackenzie Wegman, another artist hosting the event, and a fourth-year visual arts student, she hoped to tackle a different issue with her art—textile waste.

Brand culture was centering around the clothing industry and how much waste is produced every single year, because of fast fashion, how much clothing is being used and thrown away,” she said.

Yet, not all of the textile productions featured heavy topics. For Emilie Marcotte, the third artist, and a fourth-year visual arts student, she hoped to incorporate a sense of childhood whimsy and wonder in her works.

“One of them, (Jamie) stems from the creation of a character, who is a 7-year-old boy, (that) was obsessed with anything mystical and magical,” she explained. “So, the whole concept around it was him being able to build this imaginary world where he was able to create and play … and so the name of the piece, Jamie, is also the boy’s name,” Marcotte continued.

Jamie features a tent made from textile, interactable costume pieces that visitors can touch, and a small book that shows the world the boy created.

All three of the artists shared the experiences that drew them to textiles—which included everything from wanting quality time with family to childhood memories of making purses with fabric and thread.

“It was all (of those) little instances that (inspired me),” Marcotte explained. “I don’t think I realized how big of an impact (that) they (had).”

In fact, the three artists seemed hopeful for the future of textile art. “I think (textiles) will become a medium that’s more invested in within the near future,” explained Wright.

“I think that there will be a great future for it because (I’m realizing that) there is a greater interest for it than I (had first) noticed.”

Playing with Needles was on display from Nov. 5 to Nov. 16 at Gallery 115. To learn about the gallery’s future installments, check out their Facebook page.