Although the University of Iowa does not have a formal fiber art program, graduate students helped create an exhibit called “We Need Fiber,” showcasing the practice and its importance to the school. .

Sunbeams beamed through the window of the Drewelowe Gallery, shining on the colorful work of fiber optic artists in the We need fiber exposure. The room was flooded with threads and wires hanging from the walls and dripping onto the floor.

We need fiber was exhibited at the Art Building West on April 17 and will remain open until April 22. There will be an exhibition closing reception on April 22.

The University of Iowa School of Art and Art History is one of the top 10 public art schools in the United States, although it does not have a formal program fiber arts.

Sophomore Lilah Ward Shepherd said she felt like she and other artists at the school were locked in a box. After being accepted to UI in early 2020, Shepherd had to choose a specific medium to focus her studies on, as required by the university.

“I think that’s one thing that sticks,” Shepherd said. “A bit overwhelmed if you talk to a lot of art students right now. We have many interests.

Shepherd currently specializes in ceramics but plans to switch to printmaking in the fall. She said the stress of the pandemic had affected her and she wanted to move on to something that dealt more with the soft, malleable and tactile aspects. She fell into textile art and learned to quilt during her 2020 quarantine.

the We need fiber exposition was Shepherd’s idea, and originally created to ask the question, “Why doesn’t the UI have a fiber department?”

With the help of fellow graduate student Sean Tyler, Shepherd made an open call to other MFA students, spoke to their friends who worked with fibers, and created and hung posters to advertise the show.

The comprehensive exhibition houses the art of a group of 20 diverse artists, each of whom has their own background in other artistic practices like painting, printmaking, bookmaking, and sculpture. Artists came together to showcase fiber arts like weaving and sewing to ultimately demonstrate why they believe UI needs fiber arts.

Shepherd features two miniature quilts in the exhibit, titled Pivot Repeat and Dual grid — both of which have to do with the perception of color and the placement of colors in shapes, which create a pattern.

“I wanted to incorporate negative space into my idea of ​​a quilt that takes the quilt out of quilts’ purpose,” Shepherd said. “If you create negative space in the quilt, is it still a quilt? »

The quilts are adorned with vibrant shades of orange, pink, blue and green. Visitors to the exhibition can find shapes hidden within other shapes, playing on his idea of ​​geometric shapes and repetition.

Na’ah Gordon, a freshman graduating from the painting and drawing program, also works with textiles and centers her work around her sexuality and religion.

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She had the same idea as Shepherd and thought there needed to be more fiber work to the UI, so she joined the show.

Gordon’s portion of the exhibit began with a painting of an intimate scene of her in her childhood bedroom. From there, she used a sewing machine to attach a thread that hangs all over the untitled piece.

“The piece is supposed to be about intimacy — intimacy with yourself and just being more comfortable with that because that’s one of the things that was a struggle for me,” said Gordon. “Showing self-love, in a way.”

Across the room, on the floor, is a cocoon of fluttering white felted wool and silk, titled Pupa, created by Jules Bunch, third year MFA student in sculpture and intermedia.

Bunch started making cocoons as a representation of something they could hide in – from there they made smaller ones that could hold emotions of grief or trauma, and other things that they wanted to compartmentalize safely.

“I realized that I spend a lot of time dealing with trauma, and why not devote time, care and attention to things that I really value about myself?” Bunch said.

Their work on electronic programming to control the mechanical components resulted in the creation of a small robot, or what they call the “chrysalis”, to live inside the cocoon. The robot mechanically breathes in a calm and relaxed way to gather new aspects of personal care.

Bunch, along with Gordon and Shepherd, are all eager to see the fiber work of their peers show the importance of the practice.

Working with fibers is a growing theme at UI’s School of Art and Art History, and We need fiber creator Shephard having no fiber program, feels a bit political.

“I think it’s always been that way, but maybe the pandemic has propelled a greater desire, out of isolation, to be more interdisciplinary,” Shepherd said.


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