Farsley exhibition highlights raw power of textiles

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By Robert Beaumont

A new exhibition, which highlights the power of textiles to explore and explain key personal and political issues, has opened at the acclaimed Sunny Bank Mills Gallery in Farsley.

Tangled Up is a powerful yet playful expression of the history and flexibility of textiles ranging from the joys of sapphic love to the trauma of relationship breakdowns to the extremes of political repression. It runs until Sunday 30 June.

It is entirely appropriate that the exhibition takes place in the heart of Sunny Bank Mills, one of the most famous and historic of all the West Yorkshire textile mills.

Sunny Bank Mills’ Arts Director Anna Turzynski explained: “Like many people, I have always instinctively regarded textiles as functional. We are surrounded by textiles, from the clothes we wear to the contents of our homes, and they often go un-noticed as anything other than a practical means of covering ourselves or living our lives. 

“Often associated with the home, textiles have not always been considered as art or even contemporary craft. This exhibition explodes this myth and illustrates so graphically that their rich history can be a tool for protest, for anger and for a whole host of powerful emotions. Some of this exhibition is intensely raw and honest, all of it is thought-provoking.”

Internationally renowned textile artist Celia Pym is exhibiting in Tangled Up. She has been exploring damage and repair in textiles since 2007. Working with garments that belong to individuals as well as items in museum archives, she has extensive experience with the spectrum and stories of damage, from small moth holes to larger accidents with fire.

She added: “Roly’s Paper Sweater and Elizabeth’s Paper Cardigan, both featured in Tangled Up, are tracings of a sweater and cardigan belonging to my Great-Uncle and Great-Aunt. They were brother and sister. The sweater and cardigan were laid on top of newspaper and traced around, then cut out and the darning marks, and texture of the knitting stitched into the paper.

“I am delighted to have work included in Tangled Up. I love seeing exhibitions that have texture and textiles in them. I love seeing the maker’s hand. I love the directness, complexity, finesse and personality of the handmade mark that can be expressed in textiles. Tangled Up is a great title for an exhibition – it makes me want to untangle what I see.”

Andi Walker is a Leeds-based artist, specialising in Constructed Textiles. Andi’s practice encompasses three key areas: materials, ink and cloth. They work with a combination of materials, both hard and soft; they draw with ink, and design contemporary garments and costumes using both. Deeply rooted across all areas is storytelling where Andi explores themes of identity, history and societal inequalities.

Andi’s piece, Anatomy of a Quilt invites viewers to immerse themselves in its layers, to examine the rhythms of the squares with their monochromatic landscape and to contemplate the stories they hold.

They said: “Quilts have long carried stories, whether through pioneer quilts recounting tales of travel and migration, or AIDS memorial quilts commemorating those lost – a testament to community solidarity. Family quilts, often fashioned from outgrown clothing, bear their own rich histories.

“In recent years, I’ve been immersed in discussions surrounding HIV narratives. Vital to this discourse is the activism that propelled healthcare action, symbolised by the iconic pink triangle. Delving into its history – from its use in the Holocaust to its reclamation as a symbol of resilience – has been enlightening.

“Inextricably linked to LGBTQIA+ history is the struggle against persecution. The iconography of ACT UP, notably the fuchsia pink triangle and the rallying cry “SILENCE = DEATH,” epitomizes this fight. The intersection of HIV/AIDS narratives and homophobic legislation, such as Section 28, underscores ongoing challenges. The pink triangle, once a tool of Nazi oppression, has been defiantly reappropriated, its orientation reversed and colour intensified.” 

Other highlights in this exhibition include York artist Lou Mason’s Riot rug; Sarah-Joy Ford’s gorgeously colourful quilt celebrating sapphic love; and Vanessa Marr’s Domestic Dusters collection of embroidered yellow dusters, with words highlighting the domestic drudgery that most women faced in the past and, indeed, too many still face now.

Anna Turzynski commented: “We would like visitors to our exhibition, once they’ve seen Vanessa’s dusters, to embroider their own domestic thoughts, feelings, complaints and celebrations as words or images onto a duster. 

“So do please source a yellow duster or buy one from the Gallery and embroider your own message in red thread to add to the Domestic Duster collection. For details about how to enter, please visit our website.”

The stunning exhibition has been scheduled to coincide with the popular Threads Textile Festival at Sunny Bank Mills, which is being held from Friday 7 June to Sunday 9 June.

  • Tangled Up is open Tuesday-Saturday 10-4, Sunday 12-4 until Sunday 30 June. Closed on Mondays. Free entry.

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