Emotional Objects: Contemporary Textiles and Queered Femininity

Emotional Objects curated by Emily Gove

Ana Morningstar, Yasmeen Nematt Alla, Yahn Nemirovsky, Danny Welsh, Hannah Zbitnew, and Lisette Markiewicz

Xpace Cultural Centre

January 17th-February 15th, 2020

Left: Hannah Zbitnew, The Absence of the Witch Doesn’t Negate the Spell, 2018. Right: Ana Morningstar, I Am Buying My Land Back One Bag At A Time & I am Getting A Receipt This Time, 2019. Photo credit: Polina Teif

By Rebecca Casalino

The intersection of textile work and femininity becomes increasingly complex as more women and non-binary folks introduce their narratives into the public discourse. This active queering of textiles lends itself to the undervalued history of artworks created in the margins and the ‘low’ aesthetics associated with craft. Emotional Objects exhibits work that explores textiles through lenses of Indigeneity, affect and witchcraft. Artists Ana Morningstar, Yasmeen Nematt Alla, Yahn Nemirovsky, Danny Welsh, Hannah Zbitnew, and Lisette Markiewicz present their works in tandem; queerness and femininity act as threads weaving through the exhibition.

Dealing with topics of beauty, land, and magic, curator Emily Gove presents a range of artworks, each employs unique understandings of materiality. Artists Welsh, Morningstar, and Zbitnew use feminist, queer and Indigenous frameworks to create art objects that challenge formal material norms and that inject their narratives into the exhibition space. In choosing these artists, Gove presents works that employ “construction, de-construction, and re-forming to re-imagine garments, samplers, and practical everyday items” [1] to interrogate emotions often dismissed in the public sphere. Exploring the emotional possibilities in textile-based materials and techniques, each artist untangles the medium using feminist sensibilities.

Danny Welsh, Behind Closed Doors, 2019. Photo Credit_ Polina Teif
Danny Welsh, Behind Closed Doors, 2019. Photo Credit: Polina Teif

The inclusion of non-binary artists in feminist conversations allows for slipperier definitions of womanhood and a more nuanced understandings of gender expression. Welsh’s Behind Closed Doors (2019) presents a quilted tunic displayed on a soft fabric backdrop installed with a photo of the artist wearing the piece as well as an incantation. The photo features Welsh modeling the garment against peach velvet backdrop with a serious look, sporting slicked-back hair and contoured cheekbones. This dramatic presentation creates an aura of beauty and glamour around the work. Used makeup wipes create a patchwork of the artist’s daily routine, holding their pigment in a tie-dyed fashion. The rotating blocks of beige, black, blue and pink reveal a palette that exists in a domestic oasis, hence the title of Welsh’s work. The collection and use of materials that are usually waste evoke an abject nature within the otherwise beautiful work. Welsh pushes this contrast further with previously golden safety pins adding a broken, now oxidized green, border to the soft material of the garment. The changing and deteriorating nature of the garment elevates the fragility of the piece and, simultaneously, pushes it further into the realm of decay.

The garment is paired with an incantation on the wall. Highlighting a few stanzas themes within the work become evident:

“body-centric eccentricity

metamorphic multiplicity



a preformative reoccurring ritual

secretly spiritual

heavily habitual



embodied transformation


domestic Dalmation

durational display

today’s the day time to play

wipe away” [2]

This magical layer of the incantation adds a witchy femininity which speaks to the ritualistic aspects of makeup and gender presentation. Makeup becomes armour and a mask as people who embody feminine characteristics walk through the world. The celebration of femininity outside of the domestic space, beyond closed doors, allows for conversation around gender’s performative aspects and an exploration of modes for expressing power and agency. The added dynamic of the abject allows for a more complicated embodiment of beauty. Welsh’s presentation of their garment, photo, and poem creates a quilt of dialogues for viewers to interpret.

Ana Morningstar, I Am Buying My Land Back One Bag At A Time & I am Getting A Receipt This Time, 2019. Photo credit_ Polina Teif
Ana Morningstar, I Am Buying My Land Back One Bag At A Time & I am Getting A Receipt This Time, 2019. Photo credit: Polina Teif

Centering on the conceptual, Morningstar’s installation sits as a pile of white tarp bags filled with black soil tucked in the corner of Xpace’s main space. The collected earth is interrupted by small glass trade beads, adding symbolic value. Morningstar captions documentation of the work on Instagram, writing about her use of blue and red glass trade beads, “[t]he blue beads are a direct reference to treaties on ““canadian”” soil, Red are referencing the spirits in the soil-not only of the animate but of the ““inanimate’’”[3]

Stenciled with red paint are phrases like “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Rez Dirt” and “For up to 500+ Years of Resistance!” Morningstar uses satirical humour to engage with land rights. Her piece is titled I Am Buying My Land Back One Bag At A Time & I Am Getting A Receipt This Time (2019), which is a direct reference to a Facebook status meme written by Jay Jay Tallbull.

Facebook status meme via Jay Jay Tallbull.

Meme-slinging in Indigenous communities acts as a humourous, entertaining, and educational way of spreading content about resistance and resilience. Watching Indigenous meme creators drop truth bombs across social media platforms cracks the facade of a happy multicultural Canada presented by mainstream accounts. Morningstar manifesting Tallbull’s meme in sculpture adds a physical presence and weight to the issue of land rights. With the RCMP roadblock on Gidimt’en territory, again, a tense sense of deja vu hangs ominously. Memes about the racist origins of the RCMP, the issues surrounding resource extraction and UNDRIP (The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) are circulating fast as supporters of the Wet’suwet’en Nation strive to educate and inform Canadians. The issue of land is now at the forefront. Morningstar’s gesture of collecting the land in bags and “Getting A Receipt This Time” emphasizes past and present instances of Indigenous land rights being ignored by white western bureaucracy.

The aging woman is an uncomfortable concept in western culture, which emphasizes youth and beauty as markers of womanhood. Displayed on a custom shelf at eye level with stairs ascending upwards into the gallery wall, Hannah Zbitnew presents three pairs of hand fabricated shoes. Each set uses leather, terracotta-coloured ceramic, and woven fabric producing an earthy tone to the objects. The shoes follow the order of the Triple Goddess presenting Maiden, Mother, and Crone (which represent women’s life cycle) in the design and treatment of the shoe. The Maiden is represented with a sensible chunky heel, made from clay, with an open toe design. These shoes’ uppers are loosely woven with green cotton—they are casual and easy to slip out of. The Mother is represented by a closed-toe open back shoe with a tan leather sole.  Sensible shoe design is stereotypically associated with motherhood, and the aging Maiden losing her beauty but gaining wisdom. A clay rope wraps around the beige woven top of the shoe adding stability and form. The Crone is characterized by simple flat slippers with a pointed toe, leather sole, and a woven beige upper.

Hannah Zbitnew with Lisette Markiewicz, The Absence of the Witch Doesn’t Negate the Spell, 2018. Photo credit_ Polina Teif
Hannah Zbitnew with Lisette Markiewicz, The Absence of the Witch Doesn’t Negate the Spell, 2018. Photo credit: Polina Teif

This movement through the life cycle of a woman characterized by footwear creates a visual dialogue that allows viewers to engage and respond with their own understandings of the correlation of aging and fashion. The silliness and extravagance of high heeled shoes make young women feel sexy, successful, and sore. This sexuality is lost in the more muted tones of Motherhood where practicality and fashion become equally important. Finally, the Crone is comfortable and wise but pale. Zbitnew’s title The Absence of the Witch Doesn’t Negate the Spell (2018) is a quote from an Emily Dickenson poem [4], hinting at feminist undertones to the work, but also functions to lead the viewer into her neopagan understanding of Mother, Maiden, and Crone. Zbitnew allows femme magic into each stage of life. Bending the western perspective on aging and womanhood Zbitnew invests care into each pair of shoes meditating on the value of each phase of life; recognizing that women’s power does not come from the heel of her shoe but from the spell they cast.

The multiple narratives and truths explored in Emotional Objects rejects monolithic and universal biases surrounding textiles and femininity. This multimodal approach to tackling issues important to individual artists highlights the multifaceted nature of queerness and femininity. Gove’s emphasis on textiles privileges affect as a source of knowledge. This epistemological contrast to masculine western modes of understanding elevates witchcraft and queerness as alternative methods for exploring complex emotions. This feminist untangling allows women and gender non-binary people to gather in spaces to discuss new forms of knowledge and art-making without the hinderance of phallocentric narratives or ideals.


[1] Gove, Emily. “Emotional Objects Curated by Emily Gove.” Xpace Cultural Centre.

[2] Welsh, Danny. “Danny Welsh, Behind Closed Doors, 2019. Photo Credit: Polina Teif.” Xpace Cultural Centre.

[3] Morningstar, Ana, ““I’m Buying My Land Back One Bag At A Time & I’m Getting A Receipt This Time”. Instagram.

[4] Gove, Emily. “Emotional Objects Curated by Emily Gove.” Xpace Cultural Centre.

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