The Moody Center for the Arts at Rice University announces the exhibition Narrative Threads: Fiber Art Today, opening January 13, 2023 and on view through May 13, 2023. Celebrating a new generation of international artists at the forefront of fiber arts, the show includes work by Igshaan Adams, Diedrick Brackens, Christina Forrer, and Billie Zangewa, among others, as well as a commissioned, site-specific work by Orly Genger.

The twenty artists featured in the exhibition speak to contemporary issues of identity, gender, race, sexuality, and power through a medium with deep, multicultural roots that predate written history. Narrative Threads: Fiber Art Today explores this practice, specifically the ways in which fiber-based media can communicate both personal and political issues, through a selection of works that can be read as simultaneously autobiographical and socially critical.

Orly Genger, Honey, 2018, installation views at LongHouse Reserve, photos by Jenny Gorman

“At the Moody, we’re interested in exploring how art and artists can shape our thinking about critical issues of our time,” said Alison Weaver, co-curator and the Suzanne Deal Booth Executive Director of the Moody Center for the Arts. “The works in Narrative Threads invite us to see how fiber, a historically peripheral medium in fine art circles, can speak to topics at the center of contemporary lived experience.”

Featured artists include Igshaan Adams, Hangama Amiri, Felipe Baeza, Diedrick Brackens, Josh Faught, Christina Forrer, Orly Genger, Ana María Hernando, Woomin Kim, Eric N. Mack, Maria Nepomuceno, Nnenna Okore, Patrick Quarm, Chiharu Shiota, Sagarika Sundaram, Ardeshir Tabrizi, Marie Watt, Qualeasha Wood, Billie Zangewa, and Sarah Zapata.

Woomin Kim, Shijang: Fish Market, 2021. Courtesy the artist and Susan Inglett Gallery

The exhibition will be activated through a season of performances in the galleries and in the Moody’s Lois Chiles Theater. The spring programming schedule kicks off on January 27 with a one-night-only performance of Honor written by Houston-born artist Suzanne Bocanegra and featuring actor Lili Taylor. The season also includes an original performative response to the exhibition orchestrated by artist and theater director Doug Fitch, on April 21, as a part of the Moody’s signature Dimensions Variable series.

Maria Nepomuceno, Little Delilah, 2018. (C) Maria Nepomuceno, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York, Photo: Jason Wyche

More About the Exhibition

Narrative Threads offers a compelling survey of the many ways contemporary artists speak through fiber and textiles to broach personal, social, and political histories.

For several featured artists, who identify as women, LGBTQ+, and persons of color, textiles are often seen as carriers of cultural meaning that have the power to expand the breadth of voices represented in art and draw attention to personal experiences and histories of repression. Diedrick Brackens, for example, explores themes of African-American and queer identity through autobiographical works such as the pondkeepers (2020), which references a lake near his birthplace of Mexia, Texas, a site that evokes intimate childhood memories and systemic racial violence. In Versperring (Barrier) (2020), a multi-media tapestry by South African artist Igshaan Adams, geometric patterns drawn from traditional Islamic art trace the ways bodies move through space, specifically in his hometown of Bonteheuwel, a former segregated township in Cape Town, where the artist initially came to terms with his racial, religious, and sexual identity. 

Diedrick Brackens, the pondkeepers , 2020. Courtesy of Various Small Fires

Swiss-born Christina Forrer also explores the narrative capacity of tapestries by integrating folk traditions with imagery from contemporary sources. This literal and figurative weaving of real and imagined, past and present, as in Turnip Growing (2022), enables Forrer to examine human relationships, intimacy, and tension in today’s society.

Likewise, sewing, as a metaphor for repair and connection, is a poignant throughline in the exhibition. Malawian artist Billie Zangewa stitches together fragments of raw silk in her delicate textile collages, often depicting everyday scenes as a means of highlighting the unseen identities of women in domestic settings, while subtly critiquing male-centered, capitalist societies. Body and Soul (2021) features a black, female body in a posture of meditation, finding a moment of respite from the turbulence of daily life. 

Christina Forrer, Turnips Falling, Courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, Central Gallery

Engaging with the traditionally overlooked history of domestic activities, Orly Genger elevates the craft and community-building qualities of weaving through large-scale installations. In a site-specific commission for the Moody, Genger engages the architecture of the building and surrounding landscape through layers of recycled fishing rope. Through a collective process of placemaking, Genger reinscribes the tradition of monumental outdoor art through a handmade, fiber-based process.

On a more intimate scale, visitors will also encounter a focused presentation of thread drawings, featuring works by international artists Felipe Baeza, Chiharu Shiota, and Ardeshir Tabrizi. This installation stresses the fiber-based character of both paper and thread, blurring the line between applied string and the drawn or painted image on the surface. 

Christina Forrer, Turnips Growing (detail), Courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, Central Gallery

Narrative Threads brings together works that are experiential, fragmentary, and fundamentally tactile, inviting viewers to consider new perspectives through diverse lenses.

The exhibition is curated by Alison Weaver, Executive Director, Frauke V. Josenhans, Curator, and Molly Everett, Assistant Curator. The exhibition design is by world: Xiaoxi Chen, Frank J. Mondragón, and Alejandro Stein.

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Exhibition Programming

Friday, January 13, 6 – 8 p.m. Opening Reception of Narrative Threads: Fiber Art Today at the Moody Center for the Arts

The event is free and open to the public

Friday, January 27, 8 p.m. Honor: An Artist Lecture at the Lois Chiles Theater, Moody Center for the Arts, free, registration is required to reserve a seat.

Houston-born artist Suzanne Bocanegra presents an original “artist talk” performed by film and television actor Lili Taylor, with vocalists from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. Centered on a sixteenth-century tapestry of the same name in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Honor weaves Bocanegra’s personal narrative with her interpretation of the historic tapestry, in turn revealing a multitude of different characters and stories.

Friday, April 21, 6 – 8 p.m. Dimensions Variable: Doug Fitch

The event is free and open to the public Visual artist, designer, and director Doug Fitch presents an original performance inspired by Narrative Threads as a part of the Moody’s Dimensions Variable program, a signature series that commissions artistic responses to the exhibition on view. Fitch has created productions for the NY Philharmonic, Los Angeles Opera, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Santa Fe Opera among others.