Towering piles of bags of colour that you just want to hurl yourself into — that’s the best way I can describe the installations that Sheila Hicks is best known for, and was one of the most eye-catching works in the 2017 Venice Biennale.
While there is a similar large scale sculpture in this show, which is indeed eye-catching, I came into this exhibition not knowing much about Sheila Hicks. So it’s great to see the show starts small scale with some context to her wider work with textiles.
She was a constant collaborator travelling and learning techniques from local communities to use in her work — the exhibition is clear to credit these communities and to show the work as a collaborative process. Given art history is littered with examples of artists co-opting other styles without credit, it’s a welcome change to show that Hicks didn’t follow this path.
Textile works hang on the walls come down in long ropes, and in one case appear as if tentacles from some alien creature have punched through the ceiling. While some works are a lot more evocative than others I have to resist the temptation to run my hand across all of them.
The most arresting pieces are those with a history attached such as a sculpture made of pockets of hospital gowns as it gets us to wonder as to what those pockets once held, and a colourful piece made from shredded nurses gowns — triggering a memory of those who we applauded so recently during the pandemic.
This is Hicks’ first major retrospective in the UK and it gives visitors the background they need to truly engage with her work in a deeper way that goes beyond the attention grabbing colourful creations that pop up regularly on my Instagram feed.
Sheila Hicks: Off Grid at Hepworth Wakefield is on until 25th September. Tickets are £12 for adults.
All installation images: Tom Bird / Courtesy The Hepworth Wakefield