Embroidery Artists at the Threshold of a New Path
“What is art?” has been a topic of discussion involving the art community for many years. In a field where privilege often speaks louder than talent, it is not surprising that some techniques are considered more ‘important’ than others.
A contemporary movement, embroidery artists are destroying barriers in the art world, searching for recognition and respect. Giselle Quinto is one of those artists. A Brazilian based in Amsterdam, Giselle embroiders women in different daily life situations by hand. She creates a world in which women can simply be, without having to appeal to a particular gaze. Navigating the world through her art is a way for her to see how women could have been portrayed all along. Her pieces form a contrast to how part of the art world sees women.
Excluded from activities due to their gender, women regularly encounter barriers in the art world throughout history. When represented as central characters in paintings, women are mainly naked. Art about women was primarily created by and for men.
An ancient technique, embroidery is still relevant centuries later, and its power as a subversive tool is not new. Having become more popular in the internet era, creating with thread can open doors for changes bringing possibilities of expression for a group muted for a long time.
Embroidery and revolution
The term embroidery stems from the French word broderie, meaning embellishment.
Having its origin in China, the practice is gradually becoming increasingly popular in all parts of the world. Having started out as a way to show the power of the Nobility, with the passing of the years it became popular among the lower classes as well, yet embroidery remained mainly women's art.
This perception constructed barriers for embroidery artists to be recognised as such. In a patriarchal society, women's work was devalued. While embroidery had a practical purpose, the artistic layer was discredited, causing many artists to not even sign their pieces.
In a way, embroidery reinforced femininity and was used a tool to maintain the structure of society, where the care of the family and house was woman's responsibility. The practice was taught to girls as one of the ways to show them their place in the community. Still, this same tool allowed for the opportunity to fight against this composition. Women started to use the technique to express themselves.
The women’s suffrage movement used embroidery at protests, writing phrases related to women's liberation on banners, praising the work of the embroidery artists from that time, and subverting the function embroidery had.
The new generation hasn’t lost sight of that history and is still using embroidery to protest. In the fight to be recognized as artists, they create new representations and space for new voices.
The Art of Giselle
Giselle's pieces place women at the focal point. The narrative her work builds is all related to the small things in life, like listening to music or reading a book. As her embroidery pieces bring tranquillity to daily situations, they also portrait women from a female gaze. In Giselle’s universe, women are free to do or be who they want.
But Giselle didn't begin with embroidery. She was already an art student and more interested in drawing when she started to explore creating art with a thread.
"I was first introduced to embroidery in 2012 back in São Paulo/Brazil, where I was living at the time. A good friend of mine was into it and invited me to visit her stand at a handicraft market. She was selling an embroidery kit for beginners, and I decided to give it a try. At the time I was studying visual arts, drawing was part of my life, but my relationship had always been with pencil and paper. And so I tried embroidering a few of my drawings at first and fell in love with the result, and haven't stopped ever since."
As she evolved in her process with the technique, social media was an important tool for Giselle to see that people were interested in her art and embroidery itself.
"After getting praised online on a few works, I decided to try and sell some of it, and it was a success. After a short time, I got my first commission, and I clearly saw the interest in my art."
It is evident how much Giselle's art is directly related to her life. The relationship between women and nature in her pieces can be traced back to her home country, Brazil, mainly known for its natural treasures.
Her embroidery is, most of the time, thematically related to nature: Her women are seen holding pots of plants or sitting close to them, or sporting tattoos of butterflies, birds, and moths.
In addition to this, motherhood strongly influenced not only her work but her decision to use embroidery as her primary method of art.
"I had just had my daughter, and at that time, I was feeling lost and depressed. Motherhood had taken my freedom away - or so I thought, and I needed to express it somehow. It was through embroidery that I healed my pain and intuitively created my style. There is a strong connection between how I felt at the time in the simplicity of my works. Always looking for a simple getaway. And I think it translates to my style: few stitches, few colors, and fine black lines. Simplicity. "
Her process shows how art is intricately linked to the artist's desires and dreams. It highlights one more time the importance of diversity, not only in terms of the characters portrayed but also in the ones that create.
An artist will always translate their experience into their work. It is impossible to separate Giselle's identity as a woman and a mother from her art. This shows why it is necessary to have and represent multiple perspectives in order to construct diverse art. Every person will see the world differently and will represent it from a unique experience.
"In 2014, I moved to Amsterdam, a massive change in my life, moving into the unknown, but I continued embroidering. It took me some time to understand that my art would be cloth and stitches. Nothing represents me better, and I don't see anything else I would do (and I tried! tattooing, for example). Gradually I found my inspiration in plants and women. It brings me warmth, gets me back to summertime in Brasilia, where I was born."
Giselle not only found herself through her work but has allowed for other people to also identify with it. With different textures, all kinds of hair, and different types of bodies, her women can be any women.
Her women are fat, skinny, white, Black, long-haired, bald, tattooed. What they all have in common is freedom. They can be naked or wearing a sweater; it doesn't matter. All that matters is that they can be happy and are respected.
Giselle follows the path of embroidery artists of the past and uses embroidery as a subversive technique. Placing women at the center of the narrative, she shows that women exist for themselves and not for the pleasure of others.
Words: Inês Alves
Art: Giselle Quinto