Weaving Together: Fiber artists reframe feminism at Art Center Highland Park

“Tales of a Phoenix, The Letting Go Project #2” by Yana Schnitzler at “Fiber-Fashion-Feminism”, The Art Center Highland Park

To mark the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment, granting American women the right to vote, Chicago artist Ginny Sykes invited 100 women to her studio. They all wore an identical draped dress and held exactly the same pose: one hand on the heart and one on the abdomen. The portraits were then printed on translucent fabric as a powerful display of women’s strength, intimacy and intuition. The photographic series “One Hundred Women: Collaborations Beyond the Veil” was born. Sykes’ fabric banner featuring artist Helene Smith-Romer, alongside works by eight female fiber-based artists from Chicago and beyond, is on display at The Art Center Highland Park as part of Fibre-Fashion-Feminism—a group exhibition that explores the connections between the three.

“PORTAL” by Katrin Schnabl at “Fiber-Fashion-Feminism”, The Art Center Highland Park

“Don’t Touch,” an intricately knit corset-like piece by Laura Morrison gently hugs a model’s torso. Elsewhere, Katrin Schnabl’s “Portal” – thin layers of sheer fabric are accented on a metal frame – resembles a kind of abstract painting. Marty Ornish creates “She looked at the carousel through rose-colored glasses”, from a repurposed yo-yo quilt (think round pieces of fabric sewn together). Amid the works of Chicago fashion designer and artist Maria Pinto, Nirmal Raja, Nneka Kai and Jennifer Markowitz, is “Tales of A Phoenix: The Letting Go Project” – an ongoing performance work that “harnesses the power of ritual to bring women together from everywhere. the world into a unified release from old patterns that no longer serve their personal growth,” as Yana Schnitzler puts it. Collecting pieces of fabric on which are inscribed women’s intentions about what they wish to give up, the artist assembles the testimonies to create a massive skirt, large enough to fill an entire gallery. More than a cathartic moment, the work is meant to represent the global collective female voice.

“She Looked at the Carousel” by Marty Ornish at “Fiber-Fashion-Feminism”, The Art Center Highland Park

Under the curatorial eye of Caren Helene Rudman, yarn, synthetic fibers and fabric express feminist ideas while allowing space for self-expression, dialogue and community engagement. “There is a large, groundbreaking group of artists who challenge perceptions and push the art form – frankly, it’s amazing!” Working alongside Chicago-based artist and educator Anne Wilson, Rudman noted that they had something in common: “Anne echoed our belief that there is an incredible new body of work in the arts of fiber, more than people would expect if they only think of weaving, quilts and textiles,” she says, explaining that this wide range prompted a difficult but interesting process of hand-picking each artist, which resulted in helped shape the overall concept of the exhibition.

“Manic Episode, Chicago”, 2012-2013, by Jennifer Markovitz at “Fiber-Fashion-Feminism”, The Art Center Highland Park

“We really think this fits our vision,” says executive director James M. Lynch. “Our commitment to the community and deep dive into cutting-edge fiber artist innovation has allowed us to continue to bring people together in new and exciting ways,” he adds. “Think of the word FABRIC and the literal weaving of threads to create something greater, then think of the multiple aspects of a community, which come and ‘weave’ together to create something bigger and stronger than each other. ‘between us individually.”

“Don’t Touch” by Laura Morrison at “Fiber-Fashion-Feminism”, The Art Center Highland Park

Making space for such conversations is an important part of “Fibre-Fashion-Feminism » exposure. After all, textile art has always been a feminist medium. Women have been doing embroidery for hundreds of years, but it has always been considered a household craft. It wasn’t until the 1970s that fiber became part of the feminist art movement – a full circle moment. Bringing the work into the gallery took resilience, courage and perseverance. To celebrate the long road traveled by female artists – and the medium itself -, The Art Center Highland Park offers an opportunity to explore the ways fiber-based art is helping to reshape the female experience, now and in the future.

Opens April 29, The Art Center Highland Park, 1957 Sheridan Road, Highland Park. Common Thread, The Art Center Highland Park Annual Spring Benefit and Fashion Show (featuring artists and fashion designers Maria Pinto and Katrin Schnabl), April 29, 7 p.m.