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Textile art is in! Here are 11 textile artists you should know about.

Textile art, once nestled in the cozy corner of traditional crafts, is undergoing a radical transformation

A new wave of artists is weaving innovation and storytelling into the very fabric of their work, challenging our perceptions, and pushing boundaries. Here are nine textile artists who are redefining the art world:

installation view of Kusta Saaksi's Large Tapestry installation
'Borderlands' installation shot att the Helsinki Design Museum.
©Kustaa Saksi. Photo: Paavo Lehtonen

1. Kustaa Saksi

Finish Artist, Kustaa Saksi, has carved a distinct identity in textile art with his vibrant tapestries. His work blends historical, mythological, and natural themes, creating tapestries that exude spontaneity and a touch of surrealism.

Influenced by experiences in cities like Paris and Amsterdam, Saksi’s art reflects a blend of diverse ideas and styles. Transitioning from illustration to fabric, he found that working with textiles is more fulfilling. His tapestries serve as narratives that explore various themes, from personal experiences to universal dreams.

Saksi's textile art transcends the conventional, weaving emotions, dreams and fantasies into tactile, functional forms.

Saksi’s fascination with fractal motifs adds depth to his artistry. His continuous exploration of textile art pushes the boundaries of the medium.  In his most recent exhibition ‘Borderlands’ at the Helsinki Design Museum, viewers are taken on a captivating journey through the borderlands between reality and imagination. This exhibition, in addition to the rest of his practice, showcases his innovative approaches, bridging tradition and modernity.

Billie Zangewa's tapestry of a mother standing next to her child seated at a table.
Billie Zangewa. Mother and Child, 2015.
©Billie Zangewa. Photo: Artsy

2. Billie Zangewa

Billie Zangewa, a Malawian-born artist, has gained international acclaim for her intricate textile art that explores personal narratives and contemporary social issues.

Primarily working with silk, Zangewa’s hand-stitched pieces are known for their rich detail and vibrant colours. Her art delves into themes of gender, race, and identity, often portraying intimate domestic scenes and urban landscapes.

Zangewa's unique approach blends traditional craft with contemporary storytelling, creating a dialogue around the experiences of African women.

Her works challenge stereotypical representations by focusing on the strength and resilience of her subjects. Zangewa’s art is not just visually captivating; it’s a powerful commentary on the intersections of womanhood, motherhood, and the African diaspora.

Through her delicate yet bold works, Zangewa reclaims narratives and reshapes perceptions, offering a nuanced perspective on African identity in the modern world. Her contributions to textile art have established her as a significant voice in both the African and global art scenes.

El Anatsui at the Brooklyn Museum
©El Anatsui. Photo: Garrett Ziler
El Anatsui. Behind the Red Moon. 2023.
©El Anatsui. Photo: Lucy Green

3. El Anatsui

El Anatsui, a Ghanaian sculptor, has revolutionised the world of textile art with his innovative and evocative creations. His signature works, often referred to as “cloth-like,” are large-scale assemblages that exude a tapestry’s elegance. Remarkably, these pieces are intricately crafted from thousands of discarded metal objects, mainly aluminium caps and bands from liquor bottles. El Anatsui’s process transforms these materials into shimmering surfaces that transcend traditional notions of sculpture and textile, creating a unique visual language.

Anatsui’s art is a commentary on consumption, waste, and recycling, subtly reflecting socio-political and historical themes.

His flexible approach to the presentation of his works, which can be draped or hung in various ways, allows for a dynamic interaction between the artwork, space, and viewer. This fluidity gives his textiles a life beyond the artist’s hands, as each display brings a new interpretation and experience. El Anatsui’s groundbreaking work, which blurs the boundaries between sculpture, textiles, and painting, has earned him global recognition, positioning him as a major figure in contemporary African art.

quilted wall art by basil kincaid
Basil Kincaid. The River, 2017.
©Basil Kincaid courtesy of Venus over Manhatten.

4. Basil Kincaid

Basil Kincaid, an innovative American contemporary artist, has notably contributed to the resurgence of textile art. His work, deeply rooted in the exploration of cultural identity and heritage, extends beyond mere aesthetic appeal, embodying a powerful narrative of ancestral legacy and personal journey. Kincaid’s approach to textiles is both a homage to traditional techniques and a modern reinterpretation, often involving quilting—a skill passed down through generations in his family.

In his vibrant tapestries, he weaves together themes of African American heritage, the complexities of identity, and the nuanced experiences of the Black diaspora.

His creations are characterized by their meticulous assembly of reclaimed fabrics, transforming discarded textiles into compelling visual stories. These materials, sourced from various personal and communal contexts, imbue his pieces with a sense of history and collective memory. Kincaid’s art go beyond the boundaries between craft and fine art, challenging conventional perceptions of textile work.

Kincaid’s work, thus, is not only a celebration of textile art’s rich, multicultural history but also a poignant commentary on contemporary social issues. His unique artistic voice contributes significantly to the evolving dialogue around identity, memory, and the transformative power of art.

installation shot of lucia koch's textile work
Lucia Koch. Double Trouble, 2022.
©Lucia Koch. Photo: ArtNews

5. Lucia Koch

Brazilian artist Lucia Koch has captivated audiences with her unique approach to textile art. Her work is a blend of traditional craftsmanship and modern conceptualism, where textiles become a medium to explore broader themes such as identity, culture, and the interaction between space and form. Koch’s artistic practice involves manipulating fabrics with techniques like dyeing, stitching, and layering, creating pieces that are both visually striking and rich in texture.

Koch challenges conventional textile art, moving beyond mere decorative objects to become immersive experiences.

By playing with scale and colour, Koch transforms familiar materials into unexpected forms, inviting viewers to reconsider their perceptions of fabric as an artistic medium. Her installations are particularly notable for their ability to alter the ambiance of a space, using textiles to cast shadows, filter light, and create a dialogue between the environment and the viewer.

Koch’s work is a testament to the versatility of textiles, proving their capacity to convey complex narratives and evoke emotional responses. Her innovative use of fabric exemplifies the evolving nature of contemporary art, where traditional materials are reimagined to express new ideas and perspectives.

Large blue textile sculpture by Sheila Hicks
Sheila Hicks. Nowhere to Go. At the NGV Triennial 2023.
©Sheila Hicks. Photo: Sean Fennesy.

6. Sheila Hicks

Sheila Hicks, a pioneering figure in textile art, has been trailblazing the field since the 1950s. Her innovative approach merges traditional weaving techniques with contemporary art. Born in Nebraska in 1934, Hicks studied at Yale University under modernist luminaries like Josef Albers, which significantly influenced her colour theory and design ethos.

She draws inspiration from her extensive travels, particularly in South America, where she developed a deep appreciation for indigenous weaving traditions. Her art is not just visually striking but also engages with themes of architecture, space, and the natural environment.
Hicks' work is characterized by its vibrant colours and experimental forms as large-scale installations and small weavings that explore the tactile and sculptural possibilities of fibres

Exhibiting globally, Hicks has solidified her status as an influential figure in both the textile and broader art worlds. Her contributions have been recognized with numerous awards and her works are displayed in prestigious institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Sheila Hicks’ art transcends mere decorative appeal, offering a profound exploration of materiality, form, and colour.

draped textile installation by Carolina Caycedo
Carolina Caycedo.Wanaawna, 2019. At the 23rd Biennale of Sydney, 2022.
©Carolina Caycedo. Photo: Document Photography

7. Carolina Caycedo

Carolina Caycedo, a London-born Colombian multidisciplinary artist, is renowned for her thought-provoking textile art that delves into socio-political and environmental themes. Her textile pieces, often created using traditional techniques, are more than mere aesthetic objects; they are vibrant narratives that interweave personal and collective stories. These textiles serve as a testament to Caycedo’s commitment to indigenous and environmental rights, showcasing her unique ability to blend activism with art.

Caycedo's art frequently incorporate organic materials and found objects, symbolizing a deep connection with nature and a critique of its exploitation.

Caycedo’s textiles are characterized by their vivid colours and intricate patterns, reflecting the richness of Latin American culture and its complex history of colonialism and resistance. Through her art, she invites viewers to ponder on critical issues like displacement, cultural identity, and the impact of industrialization on natural landscapes and communities. Caycedo’s textile art is not just visually striking but also a powerful medium for social commentary, echoing her belief in art as a tool for change and community engagement.

a painting on texile by Nengi Omuku
Nengi Omuku. The Symphony, 2019.
©Nengi Omuku. Photo: Artsy

8. Nengi Omuku

Nengi Omuku is a Nigerian artist known for her distinctive approach to art, which often reflects on themes of identity, environment, and spirituality. Her works are characterized by their vibrant use of color and fluid, organic forms. Omuku’s textile art, in particular, stands out for its textural richness and emotive quality.

Omuku skillfully employs various fabrics and materials to create pieces that are both visually compelling and deeply symbolic.

Her art blends painting and textile techniques to produce unique, layered compositions. These works often serve as a medium for exploring personal and collective narratives, drawing on cultural history, personal experiences, and the broader human condition.

rug artwork on wall with frayed blue fabric un weaving by Faig Ahmed
©Faig Ahmed. Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Museum of Art and Heraldo Creative Studio
a wall artwork of a rug melting by Faig Ahmed
©Faig Ahmed. Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Museum of Art and Heraldo Creative Studio

9. Faig Ahmed

Ahmed’s textile art extends beyond mere aesthetic appeal, delving into themes of transformation, recontextualization, and the fluidity of cultural symbols. His works, while rooted in Azerbaijani heritage, resonate globally, symbolizing the universal nature of change and the interconnectedness of past and present. Ahmed’s art is not only a visual spectacle but also a thought-provoking commentary on how global influences can reshape traditional art forms, making them relevant in today’s ever-evolving cultural landscape.

Ahmed's innovative approach distorts traditional patterns, infusing them with contemporary elements to play with our perception of tradition and modernity.

Her art blends painting and textile techniques to produce unique, layered compositions. These works often serve as a medium for exploring personal and collective narratives, drawing on cultural history, personal experiences, and the broader human condition.

floral tapestry by David Hartt
David Hartt. A Colored Garden, 2022.
©David Hartt. Photo courtesy of the artist

10. David Hartt

David Hartt is a contemporary artist whose work in textile art is a captivating fusion of historical narrative and modern technique. Born in Montreal, Canada, Hartt’s artistic journey is marked by a deep exploration of cultural identity, memory, and geography. His textile pieces are particularly remarkable for their intricate detailing and thought-provoking imagery.

Hartt delves into complex themes such as colonialism, the social environment, and the impact of architecture on cultural identity.

Hartt’s textiles often incorporate photographic elements, blending them seamlessly with traditional fabric techniques. This unique blend results in pieces that are visually stunning and rich in context. Notably, his works don’t just represent static images but are narratives that invite viewers to unravel stories woven into the fabric. Each piece serves as a canvas where history and present-day narratives intersect, challenging viewers to consider the broader implications of the depicted scenes.

Hartt’s approach to textile art reflects his broader artistic practice, which includes photography, film, and installation art. His multifaceted background contributes to the depth and richness of his textiles, making each piece not just an artwork but a profound statement on cultural and historical discourse.

large collage tapestry by Pia Camil
Pia Camil. The Little Dog Laughed, 2014
©Pia Camil. Photo: Artsy

11. Pia Camil

Mexican artist Pia Camil is renowned for her unique approach to textile art, seamlessly blending traditional craft with contemporary artistic expression. Her textile pieces are characterized by their vibrant colours and abstract patterns, created through a process that involves dyeing and stitching together fabric remnants. This process not only highlights the beauty of the discarded but also comments on the mass production and consumption prevalent today.

Camil's work is a vivid exploration of themes like cultural identity and consumerism, often underpinned by an engagement with the urban landscape and its commercial aesthetics.

A signature aspect of Camil’s work is her use of fabric as a medium to create large-scale installations. These installations often invite interaction, transforming passive viewers into active participants. This interactivity is central to her exhibitions, as she blurs the lines between art, performance, and audience engagement.  Her work  evokes deeper reflections on the interconnectedness of art, society, and the environment.

Conclusion

These artists, through their innovative and diverse approaches to textile art, are not only redefining a medium but also weaving new stories and perspectives into the broader tapestry of contemporary art. They remind us that textiles are not just threads and fabrics; they are powerful tools of expression and cultural narration.

Rosie Bird

Rosie is an artist and creative innovator from Brisbane Australia. With two fine arts degrees and years of experience in the contemporary art world, she has acquired a wealth of industry knowledge. She founded open-folio as a way of creating a vibrant online community of contemporary artists and helping them reach their fullest potential.

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