Review, Art Latinou Gallery Solo Exhibition
By Natalia De La Rosa.
Casa Del Tiempo Magazine. Mexico City.
The Colombian-American artist Yohanna M. Roa presented the exhibition Textile Woman at the ArtLatinou gallery in Mexico City. The name of the exhibition evidence the general approach of the project, which is dedicated to thinking about the relationship between art and textile work from feminist theory. The curator of the exhibition, Karen Cordero Reiman explains that the particularity of Roa’s production lies in its transdisciplinarity since it crosses sewing, archival work and performance. The exhibition proposal consists of fifteen works in the following formats: intervened prints, engravings and prints with seams, embroidery, crochet with added beads, lace and fringes. It is part of both a theoretical investigation since the artist has an academic training and a practical one, based on work within sewing and weaving, connected, in turn, to an affective and family bond since her grandfather was a tailor her grandmother a dressmaker. The proposal intertwines several layers as if the curatorship and the choice of materials created a kind of meta-weaving by uniting different elements that seem to be in opposition: art and sewing, writing and embroidery, high art and decorative art, machine work and manual work, forms of hegemonic knowledge with alternative epistemologies.
The exhibition takes advantage of the gallery to create a space that transforms the condition of the white cube and gives way to an environment that oscillates between the domestic context and the art room. This installation decision allows the link and tension between the artistic object and the textile object to be expanded since it includes a complimentary dichotomy, based on the connection between the body and architecture, through the choice of specific furniture as a museographic accompaniment (a couple of tables, a sculptural cushion and a rug), as well as the union between two fabrics in the piece that gives the show its name, Textile Woman (2022). The connection between construction, furniture and clothing constitutes a turning point in the proposal since it attacks the notion of a passive curatorial device by including a bodily action, its residues and open possibilities.
The exhibition is part of a more extensive series. The installation/action Textile Woman-Habitat (2019) is its direct antecedent, presented in Cali, Colombia. In it, Roa joined the performative action with an entire textile environment through a dress/environment. For this new show, as happened previously, the activation of architecture through the artist’s body was substantial. On the opening day, Yohanna wore a suit made up of a dress, pants and blouse in shades of purple, accompanied by beaded embroidery, a fringed hat and feminine images taken from art books and then woven onto the suit. She used, in turn, a belt/harness that allowed her to connect other fragments of hanging fabrics to the wall that intervened directly. By wearing this suit, Roa modified the decorative and contemplative sense of the artifact and returned the artistic object to a ritual condition: by breaking the static definition of the room by uniting with the tapestry, by moving and changing the sense of the mounted works; by cutting out butterfly wings printed on fabric design, or by pulling and dismantling book sheets. This design is the axis of the exhibition since it guides reflection and can redefine the meanings of the works that accompany it: the architecture becomes embodied, the canvases on the wall go down, the anthropological images leave the taxonomy, including femininity from the Western referent is questioned. The artist’s book Fe de errata confirms this approach, from which Roa “rewrites” a traditional biology book, printed in 1933, with patterns that affect medical notions and determinations built from the disciplinary perspective of colonial/patriarchal modernity. This confirms a search method and wide selection of bibliographic materials with which Yohanna Roa has constituted an alternative model to conceive the archive, the archive or the art collection, based on transgression and reconstitution.
Textile Woman uses the reference to sewing and the domestic sphere to introduce a broad reflection on the History of Art itself. Statement 1 and Statement 2 are two attempts dedicated to questioning the forms of study and dissemination of the discipline by unfolding the canonical narrative and reinventing a language through the mechanical fabric that passes overprinted images and letters through threads ordered by starting from a fretwork pattern that configures an experimental alphabet, where color and shape refer to other meanings and abstract languages. Turning the pages vertically also rearranges the way you read.
The works Cenefas I, Ventana, Tapiz, Mantel and Ornamento make another important turn. These pieces have the particularity of transgressing the notion of the image that resides in reproduction in textbooks, the basis of a literate pedagogy for the study of art by changing their meaning as everyday objects. These new “fabrics” transgress the separation between aesthetic and useful objects. Instead, the ensemble proposes the reappropriation of Western art references (a Renaissance mural, a Baroque engraving, a neoclassical painting) that Roa restores through scraps, cutouts from the same book, embroidery and collages to recover a direct functionality, as evidenced by the titles, whether to decorate, look through or cover. In this way, the figures and the very narrative structure of the opening scenes, whether mythical, allegorical, or landscape, are altered by cutting, contouring, texture and color. My chest with flowers dialogues with this set, as it uses an illustrated page that changes direction, includes embroidery and a frame. Again, the work emphasizes the relationship between corporeality and construction by using a pink lace as a tapestry to transform the wall. This detail confirms and constantly reminds us that this expository exercise was defined by taking our own experience into account.
On the other hand, the pieces Family Portrait I, Family Portrait II and Family Portrait III take up the pictorial genre and the Dutch, rococo and neoclassical traditions to delve into the motif of the female figure. In this way, the artist questions the forms of representation of femininity in art, from the intervention in pages of art history books or prints on pearled paper with embroidery, tulle, and beads added to the frames in crochet or lace. In this exercise, materiality is taken to the extreme by completely covering characters, frame is an element that unifies the image with its support and gives another meaning to the reading of the portrait.
Finally, Yohanna Roa presents an exploration dedicated to The Last Judgment by Michelangelo. Using watercolor, Roa colors these corpulent figures in bright hues. At the same time, she reconstructs this mural using linocuts and a frame with colorful lace. Likewise, it reconstructs a chapel under a game that starts from the printed and two-dimensional translation and returns to the architectural plastic, this time on a scale where the Chapel reconstruction redirects the reception and personalizes it towards another type of body, different from the one defined as an ideal in the Renaissance. (1)
This exhibition is fundamental for understanding various methodological possibilities to think about and study art. It is worth thinking about these formulations beyond the artistic, poetic and aesthetic field to assume a method that directly affects the institutions themselves, be it the museum, the gallery, the library, or the archive, by creating options that did not exist, as explained Ariella Azoulay or Ananda Cohen-Aponte, imagining these other spaces. (2)
Mujer Textil, ©Yohanna M. Roa.Documentación: © Antonio Juárez C.  Katherine McKittrick (ed.), Sylvia Wynter: On Being Human as Praxis, Durham, Duke University Press, 2015. Ariella Azoulay, Historia potencial y otros ensayos, México: Conaculta, 2014; y Ananda Cohen-Aponte, “Reimagining Lost Visual Archives of Black and Indigenous Resistance”, en Selva: A Journal of the History of Art, 3, otoño de 2021, pp. 157-174.