Fiber Artists Blend Modern Aesthetics, Traditional Techniques

Article excerpt

Every three years, Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh, now in its 50th year of operation, is able to attract hundreds of artists from this country and many others, who convene for "Fiberart International," a juried exhibit of contemporary works of fiber art that is widely considered a benchmark for documenting trends and innovations in the field.

Since 1997, the exhibit has been held simultaneously at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and the Society for Contemporary Craft, and this year is no different.

Having opened just last month, this triennial exhibit features 79 exceptional works by 63 talented artists from countries as varied as Argentina, Canada, England, France, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Poland, Sweden and Guernsey in Britain's Channel Islands, as well as many cities in the U.S.

As visitors to both halves of the exhibit will see, the artists have employed a dazzling variety of techniques, often in a single work. Many of the artists have combined traditional techniques such as embroidery, quilting or weaving with more contemporary processes such as laminating, plant dyeing, digital printing and burning.

This year's jurors included textile and lighting designer Paulina Ortiz, fiber artist Kai Chan and multimedia artist Joyce Scott, all esteemed experts in their related fields.

They awarded Best in Show to Japanese artist Naoe Okamoto for her piece "A Laughing House," which is made of knitted and felted wool, hemp and silk.

Okamoto, who flew in to Pittsburgh from Kanagawa, Japan, for the opening, says the house she made isn't Japanese, as many had thought, but rather based on stone houses she saw on a trip to the English countryside. "The houses of stone looked like (they were) rising up from the ground," Okamoto says. "I felt a strong 'kizuna' (bond) between things, people and surroundings. It was a beautiful, happy landscape."

An automobile designer for more than 17 years, Okamoto is like a lot of the artists in this exhibit, who come from varied backgrounds. And like Okamoto, they all have one thing in common: "I like making things," Okamoto says with a smile.

Joy O. Ude of Lewisville, Texas, also submitted a piece that relates to her personal experience. "Oh, You Know ... The Colored Girl," a series of small, round boxes, is based on an elderly customer she dealt with on a weekly basis while working at a retail store. Ude, an African-American, says, "In her mind, the only logical way to differentiate me from my (all female) co-workers was to refer to me as 'the colored girl.' "

Though use of the term is not currently acceptable, Ude wondered if and when in America's history the word "colored" was an acceptable label for black Americans. "I was also curious about additional racial labels from previous decades or generations that had fallen out of favor," she says.

Ude researched previous and current labels, their duration of usage and the events that fostered changes in the way that black Americans refer to themselves as a collective group.

Based on her research, she attached etched brass plates to each of the boxes with the history of each label, then printed each of the labels, such as "african american" or "colored," in a continuous pattern on the exterior. Ude says the form and exterior materials (fiber and metal) are a reflection of the customer.

"They imply wealth in fabric quality and appearance," she says. The interior fabric is traditional Nigerian wax cloth, which generally contains very bright colors and whimsical patterns. "The wax cloth reflects my family's culture," Ude says. "Though born in America, I am a child of Nigerian immigrants. …