De-gendered Creativity

Taking inspiration from this year’s International Women’s Day campaign “Better the Balance, Better the World”, our Art Curator, Rosie Glenn explores the positive impact a gender-balanced approach has brought to the appraisal of Paddington Central artist, Ptolemy Mann and her textile artworks.

Celebrated for her colourful and geometric style, Mann studied in London at Central St Martin’s and the Royal College of Art, going on to enjoy a successful artistic career with a series of exhibitions and commissions.   Always taking her creative intuition as her starting point, Mann’s woven pieces demonstrate a strong connection to the act of painting, composing the structure and tones of her work in much the same way as painters operate within their practice.  However, whilst the realisation of successful textile artworks requires an innate artistic ability, alongside strong technical aptitudes and demanding physical endurance, Mann explains that her signature medium has been “previously relegated or side-lined as women’s work, seen to realise functional items rather than works of art”.  In addition, Mann believes that earlier “gender-based interpretations of weaving, and the fundamental lack of appreciation of the weaver’s creative expression, contributed to the discipline’s lack of critical acclaim.”

There is a sense though that contemporary attitudes are shifting and, as Mann reveals, recent commentators have argued for a gender-balanced reappraisal of weaving.  In fact, an important Tate Modern exhibition of woven art by ground-breaking twentieth-century artist Anni Albers, staged during late 2018, has provided a revised focus for the medium.  Viewed anew as a creative force, Albers is now embraced for art which offers an equal means of expression and skill as the paintings and sculptures of her male contemporaries at the renowned Bauhaus School of Art in 1920s Germany. Crucially too, her woven artworks are now interpreted as works of art, rather than soft-furnishings. 

Today, the perception of “women’s work” is considered obsolete; the act of weaving is increasingly degendered and woven artworks are firmly established as a means of artistic endeavour.   In addition to Tate Modern’s presentation by Albers, international galleries are now also staging solo exhibitions in the genre, including Pace Gallery where a display of Brent Wadden’s textile-based work has been on display recently.  A Canadian artist, Brent has commented that the discrimination against earlier generations of female weavers “left a mark on me” and that he hopes his work “helps to shift how people think about weaving.” 

It is this backdrop which has provided the catalyst for a repositioning of Mann’s oeuvre.   Having recently presented a series of weavings at the New Art Centre and Art Geneve, she is looking forward to showcasing further works at MIART in Milan during April.  

A Ray of Colour and Light by Ptolemy Mann is located within the ground floor lobby of 3 Sheldon Square; clearly visible from the surrounding walkways and Sheldon Square itself, this panoramic installation takes direct inspiration from the nearby waterfront and surrounding planting.   Take a look next time you’re out and about, perhaps pausing to reflect on the positive impact offered by a gender-balanced approach to life and work.


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