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Is Textile Art, the new Art-Art?

If you ever doubted the influence of celebrity culture than the photo on Facebook of Jonathan Garnham’s beaming face next to American Hip Hop star Usher at the Frieze New York Art Fair proved its dominance. Garnham, owner of Blank Projects in Cape Town, probably would have smiled even if Usher had not bought one of Igshaan Adams tapestries. Why Usher’s interest in Adam’s art is important is debatable and certainly that his work will be hanging on one of Usher’s walls, or even folded away in a store-room belonging to this famous American will be tied to this South African artist’s legacy. All the punters who passed it over at the Cape Town Art Fair, where if memory serves me right it showed first or works similar to it, are probably kicking themselves. What did Usher see in it that we overlooked?

Textile Art is the new art-art. Here is the measure: if a group show or art fair is not a group show/art fair without a textile art piece then you know. This may be why Blank Project’s stand at this art fair, which appears to have been dedicated to Adam’s textile art, had already proved a hit long before Usher stumbled into it- or did he make a bee-line when he read reports of it? This may also explain why Turiya Magadlela’s 'stocking art' sold out at the Armory Fair, also held in New York recently and also incidentally, promoted at the Blank Project’s stand. Abstract Textile Art it is a thing. Garnham seems to have figured this out and has lined up Gerda Scheepers’s stretched garments to keep the wheel turning.

But is she African enough? Textile Art is somewhat linked to stereotypical notions about contemporary African art being an extension of African traditions. I explored this in a recent article for Ogojiii, an African-centred publication. Here are a few points I made in that story:

Textile Art has been around in SA for some time and appears to have been linked to a desire to advance ambiguity: “Nicholas Hlobo’s art was always difficult to peg; the malleability of the rubber material he used might have lent itself to the kind of ambiguity he sought out, it also denied the sculpture label. A few years later he continued this ‘textile’ art discourse with a series of ‘paintings’ defined by rubber appliques and abstract forms generated by hand stitching, thereby treating the canvas as a textile.

You could say he was following in the footsteps of El Anatsui, the Ghanian artist famous for creating ‘cloth’ from materials that aren’t ordinarily connected to textiles such as aluminum caps flattened and joined together with copper wire to form dazzling surfaces. …The extraordinary level of surface embellishment has also lent the works a decorative quality and given they can only be viewed by being hung like a tapestry, it is not unexpected some commentators have dubbed his idiom as ‘textile art.’ Is it textile art and what does it me