The Open Mesh of Possibilities: Examining the Queer Potential of Textiles in Art

Sarah Zapata and LJ Roberts in Conversation, moderated by Dr. Joseph McBrinn

In a discussion moderated by Joseph McBrinn, the artists Sarah Zapata and LJ Roberts will explore the queer potential of textiles. The notion of queerness will be used in its most expansive and porous sense 鈥 queer as in 鈥榗onjuring relations that are unconfined by the limits of the known universe鈥, as Julia Bryan-Wilson writes in her catalogue essay for Unravel: The Power and Politics of Textiles in Art 鈥 or, as in 鈥榯he open mesh of possibilities鈥hen the constituent elements of anyone鈥檚 sexuality aren鈥檛 made (or can鈥檛 be made) to signify monolithically,鈥 as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick outlines in her book Tendencies.

With this as a starting point, the artists will discuss how their practices harness the inherent multiplicity of textiles, a medium that resists simple categorisation and conveys a plethora of political meanings through its alternative aesthetics.

Sarah Zapata鈥檚 work is inspired by her Peruvian and North American heritage, exploring the spaces between cultures, time periods, craft and fine art. She engages with traditional materials and techniques to interrogate the histories of labour, gender and power.

LJ Roberts draws upon their experiences of marginality as a queer, gender non-conforming, and non-binary subject, reflecting on how this mirrors the positioning of textile and craft within the art world. Influenced by activist art centred on HIV/AIDS, Roberts views their craft as a tool for activism, aiming to 鈥榬eclaim the mastery of craft鈥 to dismantle oppressive power structures.

Convened by Diego Chocano (Barbican), Lotte Johnson (Barbican), and Dr Sophie Guo (The Courtauld), this event is organised in partnership with the Barbican Art Gallery, where the exhibition is presented from 13 February to 26 May 2024.

This event has passed.

13 May 2024

18:00 - 19:30

Free, booking essential

Vernon Square Campus, Lecture Theatre 2

This event takes place at our Vernon Square campus (WC1X 9EW).




Dr. Joseph McBrinn (Panel Moderator) is a Reader at the Belfast School of Art at Ulster University and the author of Queering the Subversive Stitch (2020), a survey exploring the under-examined history of men and needlework, and how ‘needlemen’ have subverted traditional ideals of masculinity. His publications include Sophia Rosamond Praeger, 1867-1954: Art, Literature, Science (2007) and Northern Rhythm: The Art of John Luke, 1906-1975 (2012). He has contributed to numerous academic and specialist subject journals, such as Art History, Oxford Art Journal, Fashion Theory, Home Cultures, Interiors: Design, Architecture, Culture, Women鈥檚 History Review, and Embroidery.

Sarah Zapata (b. 1988, Corpus Christi, Texas, USA) is a Peruvian American artist whose work explores the spaces between cultures, time periods, craft and fine art. As a crucial part of her heritage, textiles allow Zapata to express herself in both contexts without compromising her personal identity. By working with traditional materials and techniques, the artist reaches out to her ancestors, the histories of her native countries and the cultural practices that shape her contemporary reality. Zapata is based in Brooklyn, New York.

LJ Roberts (b. 1980, Royal Oak, Michigan, USA) is an artist working in installation, textiles, collage and text. Their practice addresses queer and trans politics, material deviance, alternative kinship structures, archives and narrative. Textile is a strong thread in their work, as they use the medium to address subjects ranging from created communities and activism to protest banners, to the legacy of HIV/AIDS activists and historical queer houses. Roberts is dedicated to expanding the possibilities for LGBTQI+ people and has collaborated with Visual AIDS, an organisation in the USA that aims to open dialogues about the AIDS epidemic.

A textile work by Jacqueline Mautner showing a person holding a red sign reading
Jacqueline Mautner (Free CeCe) (recto), 2012, 漏 LJ Roberts, courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery