Artist, curator and founder of the Black British Female Artist Collective, Enam Gbewonyo is an exciting talent in fibre art; working at the boundaries between craft and fine art, her multimedia practice weaves new narratives of identity and belonging that counter stereotypes of race and gender. Having previously worked as a knitwear designer in New York, Enam has a clear understanding of how closely textiles are entwined with our daily lives and the power they exert over our sense of self. We first met Enam when she delivered a paper on ‘Yarn, Power and Patriarchy: An Exercise in Unravelling the Seams of Oppression’ at our November 2018 symposium Modernism: Making, Place, and Protest. Enam’s panel, which also included ICON editor Priya Khanchandani and curator Claire Mead, was a highlight of the day, but her talk particularly stood out: not only for the fascinating ways in which she connected traditional Ghanaian weaving practices with her own process of making, but also for how she passionately and persuasively articulated her belief in craft’s power to undo systems of patriarchy. It is no surprise that, since then, Enam’s work has begun to attract serious attention: in 2019, she has performed at the Henry Moore Institute, the Venice Biennale, and at Christie’s, London, joined MTArt Agency, and exhibited at the Ashmolean Museum and New Ashgate Gallery (amongst others).
Nude Me/Under the Skin: the Awakening of Black Women’s Visibility One Pantyhose at a Time, performed at the Venice Biennial and Christie’s in 2019, is a powerful piece of performance art that mixes ballet and textiles to uncover and unravel the binds that have constricted black female subjectivity. Gbewonyo uses tights to tell stories of identity, alienation, and becoming, connecting with the experiences of her mother, an NHS nurse forced to wear thick tights that clashed with her natural skin tone. Her art highlights the way that tights have functioned as a protective material for white Western women, whilst reinforcing a sense of marginalisation for women of colour; incorporating seedy advertising images, she also shows how they have been used to objectify the female body. Nude Me/Under the Skin enacts a rejection of hosiery’s suffocating hold, as Gbewonyo unbinds the tights that tie her body and transfers them to a mirror frame: the artist emerges through the mirror, uncompromising and emboldened.
Last Autumn, Gbewonyo’s work was on show as part of Gossamer, an exhibition at Margate’s Carl Freedman gallery that brought together 22 artists working with the medium of tights and stockings. Sitting alongside some of 20th century art’s biggest names, including Man Ray, Louise Bourgeois, and Sarah Lucas, Gbewonyo’s work stood out as a strikingly fresh use of nylons as an artistic medium. The tangled tights stretched out across gilt frames raise questions about the intersection of fine art and craft, as well as the politics of display, objectification, and subjugation of bodies in racist and sexist modern cultural narratives.
On 15th April 2020, Gbewonyo will perform a new work – ‘The Unbinding: A Restorative Act in Two Halves’ – as part of Two Temple Place’s current exhibition Unbound: Visionary Women Collecting Textiles. Created in response to Alice Kettle’s ‘Three Caryatids’, Gbewonyo’s performance promises to be ‘both an ode to and healing restoration of the female form’s fluidity, power and softness’. We guarantee you won’t want to miss it – register for a free ticket here!
Find out more about Enam Gbewonyo over on her website