Unravel: The Power and Politics of Textiles in Art at the Barbican

05.03.2024
Amber Weir

Unravel: The Power and Politics of Textiles in Art at the Barbican

05.03.2024
Amber Weir

Textiles play an integral role in our lives. We are surrounded by materials, from our choice of clothing to the furniture in our homes. The Barbican’s thought-provoking exhibition seeks to investigate the power and message wrapped in threads and fibre, which, despite their ubiquitous nature, are often overlooked in art history and commentary.

‘Unravel’ features 100 artworks, of which 50 are international artists. It showcases a diverse range of textiles, including soft sculptures, decorative tapestries, unspun wools, and large-scale exuberant installations. The show is divided into six sections: ‘Subversive Stitch’, ‘Fabric of Everyday Life’, ‘Borderlands’, ‘Bearing Witness’, ‘Wound and Repair’, and ‘Ancestral Threads’. The thematic approach creates a cross-cultural and generational dialogue between ideas surrounding colonialism, labour, ancestral knowledge, extraction, and trade.

Using artwork since the 1960s, the exhibition also sheds light on the many women artists whose ‘crafts’ meant patriarchal standards excluded them from the art world. Tracey Emin’s “No Chance (What a Year) 1999” is a blanket using subversive stitching to reflect trauma and anger from being sexually assaulted. Meanwhile, Faith Ringgold’s “Tar Beach 2 1990” is one of the first quilts to have a story knitted into it, reflecting her childhood memories of Harlem as a young African American girl.

Covering oppression and hope ‘Unravel’ makes a compelling argument that textiles are a powerful form of expression: particularly when you unspool the thread.

Unravel: The Power and Politics of Textiles in Art at Barbican. Until 26th May