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Unravel: Exhibition Guide

Billie Zangewa Midnight Aura

Textiles are vital to our lives. We are swaddled in them when we’re born, we wrap our bodies in them every day, and we’re shrouded in them when we die. 

What does it mean to imagine a needle, a loom or a garment as a tool of resistance? How can textiles unpack, question, unspool, unravel and therefore reimagine the world around us? 

Since the 1960s, textiles have become increasingly present in artistic practices for subversive ends. This is significant as the medium has been historically undervalued within the hierarchies of Western art history. Textiles have been considered ‘craft’ in opposition to definitions of ‘fine art’, gendered as feminine and marginalised by scholars and the art market. The 50 international artists in this show challenge these classifications, harnessing the medium to speak powerfully about intimate, everyday stories as well as wider socio-political narratives, teasing out these entangled concerns through a stitch, a knot, a braid, through the warp and the weft. These artists defy traditional expectations of textiles, embracing abstraction or figuration to push the boundaries of the medium. They draw on its material history to reveal ideas relating to gender, labour, value, ecology, ancestral knowledge, and histories of oppression, extraction and trade. 

Rather than dictating a chronological history of fibre art, the exhibition is organised in thematic dialogues between artists — across both generations and geographies — to explore how artists have embraced textiles to critique or push up against regimes of power. Some artists work alone with solitary, near-meditative practices, while others reflect the shared approach that the medium often invites, working with collaborators in acts of community and solidarity. Spanning intimate hand-crafted pieces to large-scale sculptural installations, these artworks communicate multi-layered stories about lived experience, invoking the vital issues embedded in fibre and thread.

Gallery map

Unravel gallery maps

Artwork locations

Subversive Stitch

1 Nicholas Hlobo

2 Ghada Amer

3 Judy Chicago

4 Tracey Emin

5 Mounira Al Solh

6 Feliciano Centurión

7 LJ Roberts


Fabric of Everyday Life

8 Loretta Pettway

(Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers)

9 Sanford Biggers

10 Małgorzata Mirga-Tas

11 Sheila Hicks

12 Tschabalala Self

13 Faith Ringgold

14 Pacita Abad

15 Billie Zangewa



16 Igshaan Adams

17 Kimsooja

18 T. Vinoja

19 Cian Dayrit

20 Margarita Cabrera


Bearing Witness

21 Zamthingla Ruivah

22 Violeta Parra

23 Arpilleristas

24 Hannah Ryggen

25 Teresa Margolles

Wound and Repair

26 Angela Su

27 José Leonilson

28 Harmony Hammond

29 Louise Bourgeois

30 Georgina Maxim

31 Diedrick Brackens


Ancestral Threads

32 Jeffrey Gibson

33 Tau Lewis

34 Kevin Beasley

35 Myrlande Constant

36 Jose Antonio Guzman

and Iva Jankovic

37 Yee I-Lann

38 Yinka Shonibare

39 Mercedes Azpilicueta

40 Cecilia Vicuña

41 Lenore Tawney

42 Mrinalini Mukherjee

43 Magdalena Abakanowicz

44 Jagoda Buić

45 Sarah Zapata

46 Acaye Kerunen

47 Antonio Pichillá Quiacaín

48 Yto Barrada

49 Solange Pessoa

50 Cecilia Vicuña


Affixing fabric shapes to another piece of fabric (often referred to as the background fabric) to create a composition.

beading; beadwork
The process by which beads are assembled to create a design, pattern or representation, often by threading them together with thread, string or wire.

backstrap loom
A transportable loom where one side of the loom wraps around the weaver’s back and waist and the other side is connected to a fixed point in space, with the warp threads held in tension in between.

From the Japanese term boroboro, meaning something tattered or worn out. Refers to the Japanese practice of reworking and repairing textiles (often clothes or bedding) through piecing, patching and stitching.

Passing three or more strands of material over one another alternately, at a diagonal angle, to create a cord or narrow length of fabric. Also known as plaiting.

Dutch wax prints
A mechanically printed cotton textile developed in the Netherlands in the nineteenth century to imitate the waxresist designs of Indonesian batik. The cloths were subsequently shipped for sale in West Africa, where they continue to be widely worn.

The process of chemically bonding coloured substances to fibre, yarn or cloth.

A method of decorating fabric by utilising a needle and thread. Many different embroidery stitches and patterns exist, including cross-stitching, feather stitching and chain stitching.

A single thread-like substance, either natural or synthetic, that can be combined to create a fabric or be spun to make yarn.

A fabric made using a jacquard loom (invented around 1803 by Joseph-Marie Jacquard), which uses a card-punching mechanism that allows for a greater number of threads to be weaved, in turn allowing intricate designs to be woven into the fabric (as opposed to printed on it).

A technique for producing textile by interlacing loops of thread (usually yarn) with other loops of thread. Knitting uses only one long yarn, looped on itself, as opposed to weaving, which uses multiple threads.

A technique for making rugs that uses a hooked needle (called a latch hook) to interlock a canvas base and fibre (such as yarn).

A machine, often constructed from wood, used to create fabric by holding in place threads running lengthwise (the warp) in order to allow threads running crosswise (the weft) to be interwoven with them.

A textile-making technique that uses knotting rather than weaving or stitching. From the nineteenth century onwards, it was primarily associated with sailors, who would use the method to adorn their tools or to make hammocks, but it is now widely practised to make jewellery, ornaments and decorations.

A traditional lace from Paraguay, ñandutí means ‘spider’s web’ in Guarani, one of the country’s Indigenous languages. This lacemaking method was introduced by the Spanish in the sixteenth century.

The process of stitching together three or more layers of material – typically two layers of fabric with a layer of padding (or ‘batting’) in between – usually in a decorative design. This method is traditionally used to make bedcovers and other furnishings.

The act of joining or mending fabric using stitches made with a needle and thread or sewing machine.

A plant native to Mexico that is now widely cultivated internationally. It is used to make a stiff and durable fibre used to produce rope.

soft sculpture
An art historical term used to describe sculpture made of fibre, cloth or other soft materials.

A loop of thread created by passing a needle through a piece of fabric, or a single loop created in knitting or crochet.

A decorative fabric textile created by weaving on a loom. The picture or pattern is created during the construction of the fabric by weaving coloured weft threads through plain warp threads. They are often flat and hung on a wall but have also been used for upholstery, curtains or to create richly decorated functional objects such as purses.

unspun wool
Yarn is made through a process involving scouring (washing the wool); carding (untangling and blending the wool together) and spinning (twisting the wool to create single strands of yarn). Unspun wool is the product of making yarn but stopping after the carding process. This makes very delicate-looking and light wool.

warp and weft
The warp is the set of yarns in all woven fabrics that run lengthwise (vertically) and are interwoven with the weft, the yarns or threads that run horizontally. 

The interlacing of yarns or threads, crossing each other at right angles, to make a piece of fabric, usually on a loom.

Strands made of natural or synthetic fibres or filaments that are used sewing, weaving and knitting to produce textiles.

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