Curated by artists Antonia Tarbujaru and Vanessa Figueroa, this exhibition presents wearable textile works by three female artists from around the world. SOFT SPOTS highlights the constant juxtaposition of expectations of delicateness and toughness associated with the “womanly” experience are brought together through the common thread of women's style and appearance as an art form. While style and appearance have proved themselves as a means of creating truths of oneself, artists Cassie Arnold, Polina Osipova, and, Ýrúrarí have become a source of exploration and further interrogation of “womanly” experience, and creating new archives through dress and appearance.

Texas-based mother, teacher, and fibre artist Cassie Arnold’s current practice explores the societal taboos experienced through life as a woman. Holding her BFA Visual Art Studies from the University of North Texas, and showing work between the United States and Europe, Arnold's works have also been showcased in international publications including Maker's Magazine's Women's Issue and Fiber Art Now's Excellence in Fibers Exhibition.

Arnold says that “through using traditional fiber techniques like knitting, my hope is to change the cultural narrative of ‘women’s work.’” (Arnold)  Her recent work Stereotype Sweater, featured in recent virtual exhibition Hear Us Roar!, as well as being recently selected for the Excellence in Fibres VI exhibition, Arnold says it is “for anyone who has been torn down, labeled, verbally attacked, [or] wrongfully stereotyped” (Arnold), and was initially inspired by Trump’s inappropriate and ongoing description of women, which was brought to light in 2016. Stereotype Sweater is a handmade knit garment, playing into womanly labour and a feminine art form, while simultaneously “calling out” the negative connotations or labels brought onto women. The juxtaposition at play between the soft womanliness, and labour of love associated with making a knit garment and the heavy and vulgar aspect of the words and the meaning they carry further explores this interpretation of the “womanly” experience.

 

The process of selecting the words featured began when she wrote the word ‘NASTY’ in her journal and slowly added to the list since. In addition to this, Arnold conducted an Instagram survey and included some of the words followers shared. Words knit into the sweater include HYSTERICAL, HORMONAL, ABRASIVE, BITCH, SLUT, and BOSSY which are all words which become equated to the womanly experience in that most women have been called one, many or all of the words featured throughout the sweater. The size and weight of the sweater is made oversized and almost overbearing when worn in hopes to bring awareness to the psychological toll these words and actions have on both the wearer and the viewer. The contrast between the comfort of a big and oversized sweater versus the discomfort and weight of harsh words “challenges the stereotypes surrounding females, their bodies, their work, their capabilities, and their lives.” (Arnold) 

Polina Osipova, based in St. Petersburg, Russia, is an embroideress, and pearl sculptor whose practice draws inspiration from everything related to Chuvash culture. The Chuvash Republic is located in the European center of Russia and is home to the Chuvash people, a Turkic ethnic group whose women are especially known for their unique embroidery practices, ornate garments and handmade fabrics. Osipova’s work operates as a platform to bring awareness to Chuvashia and more specifically their craft and traditions. She discusses how embroidery is a traditional Chuvash craft, and how women in her own family upheld traditions of embroidery, and lacemaking, as explains the lack of access to fabrics under soviet rule and the necessity to craft it at home. Through her Instagram highlights titled Chuvashia, she shares beautiful homemade fabrics made by her grandmothers, and she says that not a day goes by that she does not embroider.

In Osipovas ongoing series, the My Crystal Tears Project, she continues to draw inspiration from her lineage and cultural connectivity to Chuvashia. This series utilizes a combination of beading, lace, embroidery, and photographic installation to explore a Chuvash wedding tradition called “Вытие”. “Вытие”, roughly translating to “howling”, is a wedding ritual in which the bride cries and sings a sad song about leaving her home and freedom and everything that she is leaving behind as she goes through with her wedding. This ritual takes place at the wedding and consists of the bride walking around with a small bucket that guests have to put money in - this is called “the crying toll” and it can go on for a very long time which takes an emotional and physical toll on the bride. Osipova says as she explains “Вытие” that she is a very emotional person and often finds comfort in crying which also influences this series.

Through materials like delicate white lace and pearls which are heavily rooted in femininity, Osipova pays homage to “the crying toll” through self portraiture, depicting herself as the crying bride. She is surrounded by a soft malleable fabric with a light colour scheme which contrasts with the toughness of the embellishments around her eyes, representing the bride's tears and her personal connection to comfort in crying. She works primarily with pearls which represent “perfection and incorruptibility⸺and it is highly feminine.” (Protas) The sad emotion expressed by the bride in this tradition is represented through gems and crystals, in other words - is set in stone, which juxtaposes with the ever changing nature of human emotion, and this expression of emotion if oftentimes directly associated with femininity, leaning into cultural expectations of emotions as a source of empowerment. 

Ýr Jóhannsdóttir, or better known as Ýrúrarí, a name the artist chose to practice under starting in 2012. She currently lives and works out of Iceland as a textile designer, and received her degree from Glasgow School of Art. Her practice is primarily based in knitting and she says she “knits for bodies and spaces.” (Ýrúrarí) She says that her work primarily explores “the possibilities of new visual elements knit can create in spaces and on the human body in a way of illustrating the everyday three dimensional space.”(Ýrúrarí) She does all kind of knitting from hand knitting fun figurative to machine knitting complex mathematical textiles and uses techniques of weaving to create her works.

Hljómsveitt, is a pair of Icelandic knitted wool sweaters which feature images of genitalia with an emphasis on the public hair that is colourful and braided. The title is derived from a rap duo under the same name, Hljómsveitt, hence their title and the song they were inspired by is Kynþokkafull which is about “pubes and sexiness”. Similarly to the stereotype sweater, the comfort of a sweater contrasts with discomfort - in this case being the vulgar depictions of breasts and pubic hair, which are often avoided or ignored, as are most elements of female or feminine sexuality unless it is deliberately catering to a male gaze, which these are not. The sweaters themselves are a neutral light cream colour which acts as a blank canvas for the jarringly bright and colourful bodily elements featured in unnatural colours like greens, blues, oranges and purples. This notion of normalizing the idea of body hair, or breasts which are depicted in a way that make the look natural and hanging and equating it to sexiness, putting something often seen as unwanted in a body positive light.

Works Cited

 

“About.” Ýrúrarí, www.yrurari.com/about.

 

Arnold, Cassie. “About.” Cassie Arnold Art, www.cassiearnoldart.com/about-1.

 

Arnold, Cassie. “Cassie Arnold.” Instagram, Instagram, www.instagram.com/cassiearnoldfiberart/.

 

Arnold, Cassie. “Portfolio.” Cassie Arnold Art, www.cassiearnoldart.com/portfolio.

 

Berezyuk, Daria. “Meet Polina Osipova: The Artist Who Embroiders Her Own World.” L'Officiel, 24 Mar. 2020, www.lofficiel.at/en/art%20&%20culture/meet-polina-osipova-the-artist-who-embroiders-her -own-world#:~:text=A%2021%2Dyear%2Dold%20Chuvash,requested%20to%20work%20 with%20Gucci.

 

Cartter, Eileen. “Under Her Eye with Artist Polina Osipova.” Garage, 16 Feb. 2020, garage.vice.com/en_us/article/xgqvxd/under-her-eye-with-artist-polina-osipova.

 

“Hljómsveitt.” Ýrúrarí, www.yrurari.com/hljmsvtt.

 

Jóhannsdóttir, Ýr. “Ýrúrarí.” Instagram, Instagram, www.instagram.com/yrurari/.

 

Osipova, Polina. “Polina Osipova.” Instagram, Instagram, www.instagram.com/polinatammi/.

 

Pearl, umich.edu/~umfandsf/symbolismproject/symbolism.html/P/pearl.html.