The Banana Factory’s latest exhibition, Common Threads, features the work of three talented fiber artists: Tabitha Arnold, Ariel Posh, and Lily Wilkins. While the exhibition focuses on the role of violence in our everyday lives, the artists’ use of fiber materials creates a clear dichotomy between the subject and the medium. Many of the pieces demonstrate the violence inflicted upon marginalized members of the community. Pop culture, news stories, and history also provide inspiration for many of the pieces.
Two of the artists, Tabitha Arnold and Ariel Posh, have very strong connections to the city of Bethlehem and specifically the South Side. Both artists graduated from the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts. Arnold then went on to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and Posh the Maryland Institute College of Art. Both of these artists currently live in Philadelphia, PA. Arnold, a self-taught tapestry weaver, receives much of her inspiration from 20th-century Afghan war rugs. The third artist, Lily Wilkins of Los Angeles, CA, explores pattern repetition in her pieces. Her work focuses on recreating structural forms through the fiber materials. The process of creating the artwork and manipulating the fiber to produce patterns and textures intrigues Wilkins.
Posh’s textile-based paintings explore the themes of mortality and materiality. Her paintings challenge us to reconsider how we think about these incredibly uncomfortable subjects. While walking through the Banko Gallery viewing the artists’ pieces, I noticed that I felt a plethora of emotions. At times, the sheer violence of the pieces made me angry with our society and even ashamed. However, the beauty inherent in these pieces made me rethink my own relationship with these somber subjects. Like most people, I felt that I often suppressed these subjects, refusing to let them linger long in my thoughts. The dichotomy of the subject and the embroidery made me question: how can something so painful be so beautiful? Even more perplexing was the soft texture of the fabric contrasted with the content. The medium provides a way to view what is uncomfortable through materials that we often associate with comfort. Wilkins’ attentiveness to the calming nature of the artistic process and the soothing textures of the fibers further emphasizes how the dichotomy of the exhibition intensifies its impact.
One of Arnold’s pieces, October sheds light on the violence that people face daily in Philadelphia. The symbols in October present a powerful account of police brutality, the unjust criminal justice system, and the violence our country inflicts upon immigrant men, women, and children. Arnold’s choice to include the words “Stand With Meek Mill” in her piece is a statement of support for one of Philadelphia’s biggest rappers. Meek Mill’s 2012 hit “Dreams and Nightmares” describes his experience growing up in poverty, as well as his incarceration. Meek Mill’s wrongful sentencing sparked a nationwide movement for criminal justice reform, capturing the attention of renowned hip-hop artists such as Jay-Z and T.I. Meek Mill is both a Philadelphia icon and a victim of the criminal justice system. In this way, the reference to Meek Mill further reinforces both the juxtaposition of the exhibition and the artists’ social justice mission.
Posh’s JonBenet is another piece in the collection that highlights the polarity of the subject and the medium. Posh has depicted JonBenet in a way that makes the child appear angelic. Her flowing curls nearly burst from the canvas and her smiling expression accentuates her innocence. If one did not know the story of JonBenet, they would have never been able to tell that this child was brutally murdered.
Wilkins’ piece, Rosslyn St. focuses on the contrast between the harsh structure of the building and the soft textures of the fabric. Wilkins’ keen attention to the repetition of patterns is evident in the design of this piece. “Rosslyn Street” also contains many different textures that all stand out on their own when placed next to each other. Moreover, Wilkins’ ability to create multiple levels of dimension demonstrates her mastery of the medium and her voice as an artist.
This dichotomy of textiles and commentary provides us with the opportunity to reflect on serious topics in a space of creativity. The thought-provoking pieces of the Common Threads exhibition illustrate Arnold, Posh, and Wilkins’ unwavering commitment to creating social change through artwork.