Gio Swaby: Fresh Up
On view August 12 to November 26, 2023
Gio Swaby (born 1991, Bahamas, works in Canada) is a multidisciplinary artist exploring the intersections of Blackness and womanhood. Swaby creates portraits of women from her own tight social circle using a range of textile-based techniques. The portraits are anchored in the artist’s desire to represent and celebrate the complex ways women style themselves. Interested in restorative forms of resistance, the artist states, “My work operates in the context of understanding love as liberation, a healing and restorative force. These pieces celebrate personal style, resilience, strength, beauty, individuality and imperfections.”
Swaby forges close connections with her subjects. Each portrait begins with a photo shoot where the artist invites women to show up as they are, wearing what makes them feel comfortable and confident. As Swaby takes photos, she notes the moments when the women relax, and come into a sense of self-awareness and empowerment. These moments inspire Swaby’s portraits as well as for her selection of fabrics and threads.
Swaby grew up in the Bahamas surrounded by the materials her seamstress mother used. She chose to work in textiles—a medium traditionally associated with domesticity and femininity—as a means to imbue her works with both familiarity and labor-intensive care. She upends tradition with her often life-size portraits, which give a sense of monumentality to the techniques of embroidery and piecing. She also presents the reverse side of her intricately rendered canvases so that the stitching process of her freehand style—the normally hidden knots and loose threads—is visible. While there is a vulnerability to Swaby "showing the back," she embraces and elevates these imperfections.
“Fresh up” is a Bahamian phrase often used as a way to compliment someone’s style or confident way of being. Swaby remarks, “It holds a lot of positivity and joy. It also speaks to the tone of confidence and power that I want to create with these works.” Personal texts from the artist introduce each series and punctuate the visitor experience in the exhibition.
Gio Swaby: Fresh Up was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg and the Art Institute of Chicago. The exhibition is made possible by the generosity of Carolyn and Peter S. Lynch and The Lynch Foundation. We thank James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes as supporters of the Exhibition Innovation Fund. We also recognize the generosity of the East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum.
TOP IMAGE: Gio Swaby, Pretty Pretty 10 (detail), 2021. Thread, machine-stitched on reverse of canvas, with fabric appliqué. Museum purchase by exchange. 2022.26.1. Photo Courtesy Claire Oliver Gallery. © Gio Swaby.