In the Spark episode “Threads,” we follow Consuelo Jiménez Underwood as she installs new works at the San Jose Museum of Art for the “Un/Familiar Territory” exhibition, which includes 10 artists addressing the relationships between place and culture and personal identity. Discussing her roles as both artist and teacher at San Jose State University, Underwood raises two important issues that have surfaced in textiles recently — the contemporary interest in textiles as an expressive art form and the legacy of textiles as a craft traditionally practiced by women.
Underwood does not create textiles in the traditional sense, but uses textiles to express personal ideas the same way that a painter or sculptor might, by combining traditional textile materials with those not commonly used (barbed wire, plastic coated wire and safety pins). Because textiles have served utilitarian functions in history, the art world has generally thought of weaving as a craft. This assignation has served to relegate fiber arts outside what is considered to be the fine arts. Contemporary artists such as Underwood further push the boundaries of traditional craft materials by using them in new and different ways.
In her piece “Frontera Rebozo’s Noche/Dí:a,” Underwood uses safety pins to hold together hundreds of swatches of fabric. Each of the small square swatches of fabric in this work are screen-printed with the same image of a family running. This image is found on the highways along the border between the United States and Mexico, serving as a warning to motorists that people and families might be running across the road. As a cultural symbol, this image represents the border between North America and Mexico — describing a line that divides cultures. Underwood uses this symbol to represent her own history as a migrant agricultural worker, signifying her hybrid culture as well as the arbitrary lines that divide her homes.