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The body that weaves

May 14. 2019
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By The Nation

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Thai performing artist Kawita Vatanajyankur is presenting her “Performing Textiles” to inaugurate the opening of the new art exhibition space and gallery Concilio Europeo dell’Arte on the occasion of the 58th Venice Biennale.

Taking place at InParadiso 3030, in the very heart of Venice’s art district just aside the magnificient Basilica dei Frari, the exhibition explores the female world and the role of women in art and society through the artist’s extreme performances and captures the physical manifestation of manual labour processes undertaken by women in Thailand.

Running until June 30, Kawita’s performance provoke questions about cultural identity, feminism, women’s work, consumerism and lived experiences – classified through a lens of hyper-coloured realism and the intensity of physical versus material composition. Her suite of videos offers a vignette into the physicality and vulnerability of the feminine body.

“Performing Textiles”, which she created while travelling around New Zealand, stems from a journey in Thailand that the artist has undertaken to explore the various textile production techniques in small villages by local women workers. Here, production was often time-consuming, but the quality of fabrics fashioned by these women was superior. Kawita’s body performances gives voice to the work of these women, questioning the way in which work is organised and, in turn, the position of women in society.

However, textiles undeniably have a place firmly embedded in history, and it is this history of textile production – recognised as women’s labour – that has ingrained itself in our culture. Basketry, loom weaving, knitting, crochet and lace-making are all feminine material skills that rendered men unnecessary. As such, Kawita’s practice focuses on valuing women’s everyday work and labour, while offering a powerful examination of social and cultural ways of viewing women’s work.

In her performances, she transforms her body into various textile process tools. Her physical form becomes the embodiment of a spinning wheel or weaving shuttle. As the works progress, her body struggles to compete as the material tool, and thus her form undergoes both psychological and physical metamorphosis, repeating infinitely the movements.

Textiles are linked symbolically to birth, fertility and reproduction. The practice of working with materials connects women’s bodies to the earth. It is a symbol of life and power. 

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