Posted Thursday 7 October 2021
A traditional African headdress and the shared time zone between two countries are the inspirations for a striking new permanent installation in Kingston University's Town House.
The large-scale textile artwork is part of a series of major art installations being commissioned by Kingston University's Stanley Picker Gallery for the flagship structure, which was recently shortlisted for the 2021 RIBA Stirling Prize for best new UK building.
On display in the second-floor library of the building, which was designed by award-winning Grafton Architects, the artwork consists of bright blue pleated fabric suspended on a wall to give the appearance of two misaligned clock faces.
Artist and former Stanley Picker Fellow Yemi Awosile drew on her heritage as a British-born Nigerian for the commission entitled ‘Gele', the word for women's headdress in Yoruba, a language spoken in Nigeria and West Africa. The cotton for the pieces was dyed in traditional indigo dye pits in Nigeria and the fabric was pleated by craftspeople in the UK.
The pleats reminded Awosile of the African headdress which her mother wore, while positioning her work to look like misaligned clocks references both the shared time zone between Nigeria and the UK for part of the year as well as the time it takes to learn a craft.
"Nigeria and the UK are linked through a shared history and the same sense of ‘local' time," she explained. "My textiles look like clock faces at two moments in time as I wanted to represent the feeling of being connected and disconnected, and that it takes time to learn a skill and pass it on."
Having her work on permanent display in such a spectacular building was exciting while the structure itself was also a strong influence on her piece, Awosile added.
"As well as the influence of my heritage, the piece also shows my response to the building. While Gele headdresses are made loosely with pleats and folds, the textile in my creation is structured and rigid, reflecting the physical environment of Town House," she said.
"The fabric is attached to a metal framework, keeping it in a fixed position, and there are direct references to the architecture in the embroidery. The pleats, for example, remind me of the staircase, which is a dominant feature that to me feels like the spine of the building."
As a former Stanley Picker Fellow, Awosile had access to the University's Archive and Special Collections and the fashion department's Benenden School costume collection which spans the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries and inspired her interest in the origins of materials and the stories connected with them.
"During my year as a Stanley Picker Fellow, I spent a lot of time in the University's fashion archive. I became fascinated by the detail and patterns of the garments and the way they were constructed which tell us so much about a certain era and society," she said.
Awosile chose the colour and material of her creation to evoke the sky or calm sea to create a relaxing environment. "I chose indigo and used the reverse of the fabric which has more imperfections, such as watermarks, to give a sense of shadows, clouds or shimmering water," she explained.
"The library in Town House is an amazing light, airy space. I wanted to create something calming to complement that environment. I hope students, and others using the building, will let their eyes wander to my piece for a few moments of reflection or relaxation before returning to their work feeling refreshed."
The development and installation of Gele was co-ordinated by Catherine Sidwell of the Stanley Picker Gallery.
It was a beautiful new addition to a very special building, David Falkner, the Gallery's Director, said. "We hope this new work helps promote the importance of the creative use of the archives at Kingston University and Kingston School of Art, and the intrinsic value of making and crafting in contemporary culture," Mr Falkner said.
"We also want our students, staff and members of the public to be inspired by the work and by Awosile's wider practice, her cultural heritage and personal interests, which are communicated through the work itself."
Awosile has already been complimented on her piece by visitors to the building, including the support staff.
"One woman who has Asian heritage told me it reminded her of a type of fan in Asian culture," she said. "Everyone has a slightly different interpretation of it because the shape is very universal. I hope people enjoy looking at it while they're in Town House and relate to it in their own individual way."