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From Quilts to Durags: Fabric Works Encourage Social Change

Natalya Khorover, Arcadia Lost (aka Turning Up the Heat) (photo credit: Maksim Akelin)

“To be sure, there are many ways to use fabric in search of artistic meaning,” says ArtsWestchester CEO Janet Langsam. “In this exhibition, we are encouraging artists to use fabric as a way to point out issues of social consequence.”

The exhibition Langsam refers to, The Social Fabric, on view in ArtsWestchester’s gallery through January 22, investigates the role that fiber and textiles play in social discourse. As textiles are familiar artifacts of daily life, they evoke the human hands and bodies that make and wear clothing, and the various occasions in which these materials are used. For instance, quilts, curtains and pillows soften, personalize and shield the interiors that people inhabit. Similarly, the tactile allure of different fibers may summon a viewer’s sense of touch. The artists in The Social Fabric invite these familiar associations, while their transformative works may challenge connections and meanings that viewers thought they already knew.

Two of the exhibition’s site-responsive installations, one each by artists Anthony Akinbola and Natalya Khorover, were specifically commissioned for the gallery.

Akinbola, who was raised between Missouri and Nigeria, uses readymade objects of cultural significance to explore intricacies of identity, contemporary cultural practices and connections between Africa and America. The untitled piece made for The Social Fabric is a massive display of durags that hangs over 14 feet tall and drapes onto the gallery’s floor. In this series, he raises questions about the commodification and consumption of Black culture within the contexts of both global capitalism and the experiences of Black communities.

Khorover’s installation, Arcadia Lost (aka Turning Up the Heat), was sewn and assembled from single-use plastics that were collected with the help of the community. Through the installation, Khorover points to single-use plastic as a serious polluter of the environment, and one that contributes to climate change. An installation made from such materials is an invitation for the viewing public to see this message writ large.

At first glance, the installation is a fun, brightly colored explosion of flowers, draping vines and flowing brook. As viewers walk inside for a closer look, they may slowly realize that the materials used to create the work are the very same ones that contribute to the pollution of the natural beauty being depicted. Bottle caps, broken toy parts and container covers all find their way into the artwork. The whimsical appearance of the installation subverts the importance of the message, echoing the contradictions that people often encounter when weighing convenience with proper waste disposal and recycling.

Says ArtsWestchester’s exhibitions manager, Adam Chau: “We had hoped to stimulate the artistic community by giving artists a chance to make impactful work, and they delivered. Having works made specifically for our gallery creates a unique dialog between the institution and the individual.”

The full list of participating artists includes: Anthony Akinbola, Paolo Arao, Natalie Baxter, Ruby Chishti, Adebunmi Gbadebo, Kate Hamilton, Sylvia Hernandez, Natalya Khorover, Mary Tooley Parker, Jill Parry, Lina Puerta, Simone Saunders, Stan Squirewell, and 5 Year Plan Project.

A version of this article first appeared in the November 2022 issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.