*** Janet Wells’ quarterly review of the Arts, Gallery and Museum scene.

Barbican Art Gallery

Unravel: The Power of Politics of Textiles in Art

13th Feb to 26th May

Here we have over a hundred artworks: Hand crafted pieces to large scale sculptural installations. These artists, drawn to the processes of stitching, weaving, braiding and knotting, have embraced fibre and thread to tell stories that challenge power structures, transgress boundaries and reimagine the world around them.

This exhibition presents six themes – ‘Subversive Stitch’, ‘Fabric of Everyday Life’, ‘Borderlands’, ‘Bearing Witness’, ‘Wound and Repair’ and ‘Ancestral Threads’ – which together explore the role of textiles in artistic practices.

Antonio Jose Guzman & Iva Jankovic, Messengers of the Sun, 2022

This is not a textile exhibition that celebrates primarily craft technique over ideas; it is mostly about how fabric – a substance common to everyone in the world – is used as the tool of these politically motivated artists. Not that great technique isn’t demonstrated here:  In room Wound and Despair, we find fine hair drawings on linen – delicate anatomical drawings; a suspended eyeball; a woman’s breast (a threaded needle penetrating the nipple) by Angela Su.   In room Bearing Witness Hannah Ryggen‘s tapestry Blood in the Grass addresses the atrocities of the US invasion of Vietnam; In room Ancestral Threads, Using the natural fibres of hemp, Indian sculptor, Mrinalini Mukherjee has produced larger than life macrame sculptures in knotted, rippling forms of organic beings.      

There are 50 participating artists and there is almost too much in the exhibition to digest in one viewing and worth a second visit.  Also, importantly: There is programme of talks, tours and hands – on workshops that run throughout the duration of the exhibition. 


Barbican Lakeside Terrace

Purple Hibiscus

10th Apr to 18th Aug

Something that will not be easy to miss!

The Barbican is the first large scale public commission, presented in the UK by Ghanaian artist, Ibrahim Mahama (b1987) opening in April 2014.  The site-specific artwork will dramatically envelop the buildings iconic concrete exterior with approximately 2000 square meters of bespoke woven cloth. 

Purple Hibiscus, named after Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s eponymous 2003 novel, is an ambitious new commission created in collaboration with hundreds of crafts people from Temale in Ghana.


Tate Britian

Sargent and Fashion

22nd Feb to 7th Jul

Tate Britian’s major exhibition is dedicated to the great portrait painter, John Singer Sargent (1856 -1925). Born in Italy to American parents, Sargent spent most of his life as an expatriate artist in Europe -mostly Italy Paris and Spain as what is considered “the leading portrait painter of his generation”.    Sargent’s ground -breaking role as a stylist, fashioning the image his sitter is presented to the world through sartorial choices.

You may be familiar with the Tate’s incomplete full-size sketch of Madam X which was presented by Lord Duveen through the Art Fund in 2025. Here though, we have the final portrait: The one that had caused such a scandal within the Parisian socialites in 1884; the one that had decided Sargent to leave the poisonous atmosphere of Paris for London. It is being shown in this exhibition by courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Sargent had (uncharacteristically) made several sketches of socialite Virginie Amelie Gautreau, Madam X. Here she stands: Her head is turned to show off her distinctive profile while the rigid corseted torso turns towards the viewer. The powdered bare shoulders and arms rising from the plunged neckline of winged black velvet, are powdered white with a tinge of green; as her right arm stretches back to touch a table, the left arm comes forward to rest on the skirts dark swathe of heavy silk. The real cause of the rumpus was that her diamond dress strap had fallen off her shoulder – suggesting that her garment might also fall away altogether in a moment.  However, Sargent corrected the problem, and both straps are in place in this completed work on show.

The dramatically grand portrait of Lady Sassoon 1907 in swathes of black taffeta, has with it the original opera cloak and it demonstrates how Sargent manipulated the clothing by pulling and pinning, to add drama – just as in current fashion photography: It is said that he worked collaboratively with his sitters, but also took creative liberties, omitting details as he felt fit.

This exhibition also sets out to explore Sargent’s subversive and social codes: His clothing choices suggest the blurring of the accepted female/ male characteristics.  It is interesting to see how it shifts the ground of what was the traditional gender roles at the end of the 19th century.

We have the portrait of the British writer Violet Paget 1881    ( in her wire framed specs ) who wrote under the pseudonym Vernon Lee, and had the preference for masculine clothing. Also here is Sargent’s portrait of the aesthete surgeon, Samuel-Jean Pozzi, posed wearing a flamboyant red dressing gown and Turkish slippers.

To explore Sargent’s artistic process, the exhibition gives us photographs, drawings, garments and accounts given by his sitters:  The portrait of Mrs Montgomery Sears 1899, is shown alongside Mrs Montgomery Sear’s own dresses and her photographs of Sargent at work.

Organised by Tate Britain and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Both MFA Boston and Tate Britian received generous support for international scholarly convening and for the exhibition from Terra Foundation for American Art.


Other things this Spring

Whitechapel Gallery                                                                         

Dreams have No Titles: Zineb Sedira                                                                           

15th Feb to 12th May. 

An immersive installation comprising film, sculpture, photography and performance.

Tate Modern                                                                                 

Conceptual: Yoko Ono 

15th Feb to 1st Sep

The Royal Academy                                                                    

Entangled Pasts, 1768 – Now                                                                                                                 

Art, Colonialism and Change    

4th Feb to 28th Apr                    

Main Galleries

Over a hundred contemporary and historic works as part of a conversation about art and its role in shaping narratives of empire, enslavement, resistance, abolition and colonialism – and how it may help set a course for the future.

Dulwich Picture Gallery

Soulscapes

14th Feb to 2nd Jun                                                         

A contemporary retelling of landscape by artist from the African Diaspora.  The exhibition opens by examining the theme of belonging in relation to the natural world and considers the varied ways we experience the land and how this relates to our sense of identity.

Nat Portrait Gallery     

Portraits to Deam In:                                                                   

Francesca Woodman and Julia Margaret Cameron

21st Mar to 16th Jun    

More than 160 rare vintage prints by two photographers – who worked 100 years apart- are presented in parallel for the first time.                                                              

The British Museum                                                                        

Legion: Life in the Roman Army

1st Feb to 23rd Jun

From family life on the battlefield, experience Romes’s war machine through the people who knew it best – the soldiers who served in it.