Gio Swaby: She Used to be Scared of Hair Comb

She Used to Be Scared of Hair Comb 1. 51cm x 71cm each. Fabric and Thread on Canvas. 2017.

By Gio Swaby

At the core of my practice is the desire to reimagine; taking something that once was and giving it new life. This is true for both physical objects and concepts. My work revolves around an exploration of identity, more specifically, the intersections of Blackness and womanhood. I am interested in the ways in which this physical identity can serve as a positive force of connection and closeness, while also examining its imposed relationship to otherness. Generally, my work begins with the development of a concept and from this point, I choose media most suitable to represent my ideas. In this way, I’ve constructed a practice that is interdisciplinary by nature. 

Going Out Clothes 1. 79cm x 109cm each. Fabric and Thread on Canvas, Lace. 2018

While studying at the College of The Bahamas, I established a strong background in traditional forms of art-making. In my time at Emily Carr University, I explored forms of digital media primarily by way of video installations, performance, and filmmaking. Since my time after my BFA, I have intensely developed my textile practice, focusing primarily on portraiture as an exploration of the intersections of Blackness and womanhood and how they relate to identity.  I have experimented across several disciplines to form a current practice that encompasses fibre art, performance, and mixed media installation. 

She Used to Be Scared of Hair Comb 3. 51cm x 71cm. Fabric and Thread on Canvas. 2017.

She Used to Be Scared of Hair Comb (1-3 of 10) is an example of my fibre-based practice and explores my primary themes of interest. This series demonstrates a process of detaching long-standing stigmas associated with Black hair and hosting a celebration of beauty in its place. This series is a nod of appreciation to Black women everywhere that have resisted the consistently reinforced narrative that Blackness has no relationship to beauty. As a whole, my fibre-based works recontextualize textiles outside of the negative connotations often connected to domesticity and instead bow in admiration of the awesomeness of womanhood. 

Study of Self 3. 28cm x 36cm. Fabric and Thread on Canvas. 2020.

Artists such as Ebony Patterson and Kehinde Wiley influence my visual practice in their unapologetic and dynamic representation of Blackness and Black culture. I take inspiration from bell hooks’ “Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black” and the ways in which she dissects the relationship between oppressed and oppressor. My ambition is that my work can reflect the strength of a Patterson or Wiley while remaining accessible to its intended audience in the same way that hooks has achieved. I hope to further the visibility of Blackness in art and academia and to continue to build upon the important works of influential thinkers and creators.

Each piece I create continues to build upon an integral aspect of my practice: to contribute to the visibility of Blackness in the art world. At many points in our lives, Black women can live within a paradox of hypervisibility and yet still not feeling truly seen. I want my work to function as a love letter of sorts to Black women, to create space for us not only to be represented but to be celebrated.

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