Sarah Maloney's flowers are fine art and she challenges her viewers to think about what that means

A bouquet of political stances, Sarah Maloney shows at the Kelowna Art Gallery

Flowers for February, and March, from a woman who dares to work in the botanical realm, using embroidery, and don the title 'artist'

  • Jan. 31, 2013 11:00 a.m.

Flowers for February (and March) from a woman who dares to work in the botanical realm, using embroidery and still don the title ‘artist’

It’s kind of ironic to think that artist Sarah Maloney addresses her textile work as a feminist backlash to the stereotypical connotations of needlepoint.

On one hand, it’s very true that textile work, particularly the embroidery she’s used on her rich brocade wall hangings—similar to a well-heeled grandmother’s living room couch or one’s favourite chair at Chintz & Company—has traditionally been overlooked as “art” in European society, relegated to the less influential, prestigious and politically aware realm dubiously known as “crafts.”

On the other, one can’t help but note that while those of European ancestry might not have seen textiles as an art form until quite recently, in African cultures, many Asian cultures and South American cultures, textile arts and embroidery have carried great political influence, been used to communicate messages for social change and even to raise money in times of economic strife.

And of course, one has to think a little about how the modern textile industry has become a flashpoint for political messaging, slogans are now printed on tee-shirts, after all, and the sweatshops many a tee-shirt is punched out in have certainly been political lightening rods in various human rights movements.

Maloney’s points are less overt, however, and the meaning behind the twin tulips she seems to paint on her wall hangings takes a little conversation to reveal itself.

Looking at the Tulip Crisis in Holland in the 1630s—the first documented case of a speculative market in which tulips were being priced at the rate of housing with people buying them on a hope they would rise still more in value—she started embroidering the flowers, sketching them out first as though they were to become painted images.

Travelling to Europe to do extensive research on the old English gardens where they would have been used on the grounds of great Lords, she worked from historic botanical engravings, keeping the bulbs and roots just as they were shown and, in so doing, creating another unique relationship.

Usually seen in a vase or, at least cut, she feels the roots give the tulips a lifelike quality, and notes they almost anthropomorphize in the work.

“It’s like the tulips are dancing or courting or something like that, so there’s this sort of playful element,” she said at her opening a week ago.

This is a show about how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. Playing with gender roles, themes of economic progress and with a wicked sense of humour that lays out a bed of tulips for one to ponder—literally, there is a daybed with a garden of bronze tulips growing out of it—her work is highly thoughtful, certainly political, stunningly executed and fresh.

And it certainly brings a spot of beauty and colour to one’s day mid-winter. Sarah Maloney’s Collapse shows at the Kelowna Art Gallery until March 31.

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