By Vanessa Machir
Take in the creations of five alumni fiber artists
"Working with our hands is what makes us human,” Hallie Meltzer, Textile/Surface Design ’08, says. And it is often this opportunity to feel and create textures every day that draws people to the practice of fiber art.
“Touching fibers with your hands can be a very meditative process. It’s very centering,” Nomi Kleinman, chair of the Textile/Surface Design Department, says. With so many different materials and processes to choose from, fiber art also offers endless possibilities for experimentation and innovation. “It’s an incredibly flexible medium,” Ruth Jeyaveeran ’07, assistant professor of Textile/Surface Design, says. Many fiber artists are excited to combine traditional techniques with technology—like digital embroidery or smart fabrics—which Kleinman calls “a lovely marriage.” But fiber art didn’t gain respect in the art world until the 1960s and ’70s, with the work of Bauhaus artist Anni Albers (wife of Josef) and Sheila Hicks (once Albers’ student and now a textile icon) paving the way. The practice has historically struggled to get the same level of recognition as painting and photography because it’s “traditionally been relegated to women’s work and the fringe,” Jeyaveeran says. She acknowledges, however, that things are changing. “In the last 10 years or so, traditional craft mediums like fiber art have started to become recognized by the art world,” she says. Recent exhibitions in New York featured the work of textile artist Diedrick Brackens, at the New Museum, and the late sculptor Mrinalini Mukherjee (who often used dyed and woven hemp rope), at the Met Breuer. Meltzer attributes this resurgence of interest to “a desire to get back to something tactile” in an increasingly digital world. People are recognizing the importance of the very human, multisensory experience that has long attracted artists to fiber art. But this can lead to a problem in museums and galleries, Kleinman says: “People try to touch the art.”