Botanical Tapestry, 2019 by Vanessa Barragão. Wool, cotton and jute (600cm x 200cm)
such as the sea, and her work reflects both a personal connection and a rich cultural heritage. Known for her opulent sculptural tapestries adorning walls and floors, she does not, however, idealise Nature in her impressions of lush ecosystems. Instead, by presenting, for example, threatened species such as such as dead white coral within a piece, she also reflects on the realities of human influence on our modern world.
As was Morris’s work, Barragão’s is also informed by the materials she utilises and the process of production itself. Now based in the city of Porto, near to the country’s northern textile manufacturers, she collects and uses the waste products or ‘deadstock’ of an industry known for its lack of recycling, huge energy usage and high levels of pollution. In upcycling materials from her local factories, Barragão connects the physicality of her artworks and her subject matter, while offering consideration of the nature of our bonds with our locality and the environmental impacts beyond its use.
Techniques employed in her work are varied and include macramé, crochet and latch hook, all of which require a time-consuming proficiency that has been culturally much underestimated. As with the Arts and Crafts movement’s emphasis on human investment in the formation of quality decorative arts, which is obvious in the work of Morris, Barragão’s creative process is intentionally handmade and artisanal. Rapid capitalist, industrial expansion encompassing fears of dehumanisation is relevant to the contexts of both artists. Emphasis on the personal was and indeed still is political.
Barragão works not only as a textile artist, but also with a team of female artisans creating products for interiors. Her textile and design talents, as well as being formed in her training at Lisbon University, are, like Morris’s, a product of her female lineage, inspired by the skills of her grandmother. Such women-centric creativity would certainly have pleased the feminist Morris, who not only sought workers’ rights generally, but also aimed to elevate the status of women and their arts. Morris was active in setting up several initiatives to aid this progression, in addition to sharing her knowledge and experience with her fellow women by teaching at such institutions as the Royal School of Art Needlework. While Morris and Barragão share a huge talent for creating interpretations of Nature encoded with significant insights into the cultural concerns of specific eras, it is fair to note their uniqueness. Whereas Morris and her Arts and Crafts kin explored ideas of an idealised past for their stimulus, Barragão’s present work, such as her large-scale ‘Botanical Tapestry’ capturing the Earth in map form and installed at Heathrow Airport, is in many ways asking questions of our choice of future.
PL Henderson is a writer and art historian. @womensart1 womensartblog.wordpress.com vanessabarragao.com
54 Resurgence & Ecologist