Textile & Performance Artist Enam Gbewonyo - FAD Magazine

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Textile & Performance Artist Enam Gbewonyo

Five Hides is an exhibition presented by curatorial platform Thorp Stavri, supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and through the continued support of Projekt and us! FAD Magazine. We managed to catch up with five of the exhibiting artists for a quick overview about them their work and what they will be exhibiting at Five Hides the first artist is Textile & Performance Artist Enam Gbewonyo.

Enam Gbewonyo Carl Freedman Gallery performance, Gossamer exhibition 4 - credit Umut Gunduz
Enam Gbewonyo- Carl Freedman Gallery performance, Gossamer exhibition – photo: Umut Gunduz

For those that don’t know your work, can you tell us about your background and art practice?
Sure, I’m a textile and performance artist and have been practising for what will be ten years this December. However, my journey to becoming an artist wasn’t straightforward. I studied Textile Design at university and then embarked on a career in fashion design working in New York for a total of seven years. I returned to the UK in 2008 when I was made redundant and initially explored teaching but during that process realised that my true passion was in making art and so that’s when I started to seriously consider my art as a career.

My practice has always explored humanity, spirituality and our connection to nature but more recently I have also begun to investigate identity and womanhood. Central to my work is this aspect of healing, it is what my art and performance works aim to provide to audiences. It’s also part of the reason why I use craft processes as my tool. There is also an ancestral root to this work as being of Ghanaian Ewe descent I come from a people whose traditions of storytelling and weaving hold wisdom and the truth of existence. It presents through contextual and visual means a channel to reclaiming our ancient wisdom and thus our authentic selves. Ultimately my work seeks to deliver the collective consciousness to a place of awareness through healing.

Enam Gbewonyo, Invisibility Cloak, hand knit tights photos: Jennifer Moyes

Can you tell us a bit about the work that is being shown at Five Hides?
I am showing two works from my ‘Nude Me/ Under the Skin’ series, which is an on-going exploration of the history of nude tights and how this intersects with the history of black women. It examines how this staple of western women’s wardrobe has for the black woman been another mode of marginalisation and ostracization.

Both pieces are actually tied to the performance aspects of my work, in that one was activated with performance, Invisibility Cloak, and the other, In the Wake of Barely Black, was actually created during a live performance. Invisibility Cloak is a hand-knit piece made with tights that serve as a cloak as the title suggests. The work signifies the veil that is enforced on the black woman that renders her true self, invisible. Intentionally made in the standard “nude” tight colour, it is a symbol of the beauty standards imposed on the black woman. Standards that further devalue her sense of self and her worth. It also signifies the very real, physical experience of being invisible to the white gaze as though translucent the gaze sees through us rather than at us. The piece became part of my first ever performance delivered in 2018 for the Costume Institute of the African Diaspora’s Exchange event. Titled, Nude Me/ Under the Skin: Reclaiming Back Women’s Visibility one Pantyhose at a time, the performance was a fictional telling of four black women’s lives whose birth dates correlate with that of my matrilineal ancestors and myself. In the piece, Invisibility Cloak acts as a shield to the coldness of the women’s experiences while also illustrating their invisibility and assimilation to Western society. Through the performance the black woman embarks on a journey of discovery, ending in a reclamation of her true self the cloak is defiantly cast off.

In the Wake of Barely Black was created during my Christie’s Lates event live performance titled, Nude Me / Under the Skin: The Awakening of Black Women’s Visibility one Pantyhose at a time, Part II’. The performance enacted a funeral ceremony – a laying to rest of black tights which here serve as a symbol of the discrimination and invisibility black women experience as well as the coping mechanisms black women employ to exist under such scrutiny. This was physically presented by winding used black tights web-like around a vintage mirror frame. The mirror frame represents the place where the black woman feels most constricted, for the reflection much like the fairy tale never lies. We cannot morph into the ‘acceptable’ ‘feminine ideal’. The black woman newly awakened through the process of healing enacted in a previous performance is now confident and assured in her skin. She boldly breaks through the mirror, emerging to rightly take up her space now confident in her skin. The artwork remains as epitaph, its worn, used material bearing the weight of her scars and pain. What was once her shield is now lain to rest along with her old self.

Enam Gbewonyo In the Wake of Barely Black burnout used tights cotton hand embroidery and eco friendly-acrylic paint on vintage Cheval mirror frame photo: Jennifer-Moyes

How does it feel to be able to exhibit larger works at a time when exhibition venues like Manor Place Baths are becoming harder and harder to come by?
It’s definitely a huge treat to be able to display works in a space with so much character and history but also that’s in the heart of a local community. This last reason is why I’m especially excited about the workshop I’ll be delivering as part of the exhibition programme, it brings the space back to life in its role promoting wellness. In its past lives, it has served as public baths, a boxing gym and Buddhist centre so it is great to be able to open it up to the public once more and with an activity centred on healing.

In terms of the exhibition, I’m a real fan of non-traditional exhibition spaces. I find it creates really interesting dialogues between the work and the space offering exhibition audiences a different perspective with which to engage with the works. Being that I’m exhibiting textile works I’m really excited to see the interplay of opposing textures, materials and colour. Kudos has to go to the Thorp Stavri team, they are truly committed to developing exhibition projects in spaces that bring new life and meaning to the way art is viewed and the people who engage with it.

Have you made any plans for 2021? Are you feeling positive?
There are a few plans in the works but the one I’m most excited about is the institutional exhibition I’m participating in, my first! It was due to take place September this year but has been rescheduled to February 2021 due to the pandemic. It takes place at the FRAC Nouvelle- Aquitaine ME?CA in Bordeaux and I’m also due to deliver a performance as part of the programme.

I’m feeling hopeful for next year. I think the events of 2020 have caused a massive shift in thinking not just for me in a personal sense but collectively and of course in the art world. I for one am being so much more purposeful in the projects I take on and am thinking so much more about how I can use my art to positively impact my community. Obviously, the way we engage with art changed drastically somewhat overnight. While the knock-on effect has been severe in some instances, in other ways it has opened avenues to new ways of connecting with people and developing conversations. I think whatever lies ahead, while challenging, may create a much more equitable and sustainable path for artists to flourish and continue expressing their craft.

Enam Gbewonyo Bigger than the picture they framed us to see 2019-116.5x86x6.5cm burnout recycled tights cotton thread on vintage picture frame Photo: Umut-Dehmut

Enam Gbewonyo – @enamgd Enam will be delivering a workshop ‘The 3Ms to Healing’ to find out more on the workdhsop and to book a FREE ticket visit HERE

Five Hides 3rd October – 11th October 33 Manor Place London SE17 3BH The exhibition will be adhering to current social distancing guidelines. Masks will be required for entry, hand sanitizer will be provided and access to the exhibition space will be in limited capacity.  All visits will require a free ticket, which can be booked HERE .

* The 3rd of October is now fully booked and the 4th is nearly so please book ASAP to avoid disappointment.*



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