Chastain Arts Center’s Fabric Flash, on view through May 18, celebrates the contribution of women to history and culture. It features a range of textile works, including quilts, fabric paintings, screen prints and soft sculpture. It recognizes craft traditions and elevates them to an expression of skill, creativity and fine art.
The artwork and the artists could easily have been reduced to “craftwork by women.” That they’re not makes the show powerful and subversive. Textile art carries an inherent stigma in the art world that often denies it the same space as contemporary fine art. Textile work, traditionally relegated to domesticity, can reduce its creators to women merely working within the sexist confines created for them by men.
What Fabric Flash does well is provide a space for its 14 participants to exist as women and artists. They chose to work with cloth, fabrics and thread to tell contemporary narratives, take on complex concepts and express themselves. That makes this exhibition relevant and important.
“I am constantly looking for opportunities to show my work with other fine artists, versus other quilters,” says Dawn Williams Boyd. “I don’t want to be pigeonholed into the textile or quilters realm. I consider myself a fine artist.”
Boyd creates cloth paintings, taking fabrics of various colors, patterns and textures and using them to stitch figurative archival works that tell historical and contemporary black narratives. Her Bad Blood: Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment — Macon County, AL 1932–1972 and Six Feet of Water: Evangeline, LA 1927 are part of this exhibit.
“For once in my life, my work actually fits in with other artists in the room,” she says. “Often my work is so big and different from what everyone else does, it’s like a big sore thumb. But in this instance my work fits right in, in regard to scale, artistry and the careers of the other artists.”
Though using similar materials, this small range of artists demonstrates the wide range of possibility in textile art. The artists featured — Boyd, E. Loretta Ballard, O.V. Brantley, Virginia Greaves, Odessa Huff, Marquetta Johnson, Lynn Marshall Linnemeier, Aisha Lumumba, Mrs. Padgett, K. Joy Peters, Helen McBride Richter, Bobette Robinson, Janet Saboor and Sandy Teepen — all show textile work in and around Atlanta.
The title Fabric Flash is literal. Although there is much to see here, the work needs more space to breathe, proper lighting and more text in which the voices of the curators and artists can be heard.