Textile artist Sophia DeJesus-Sabella uses her weaving craft to create personal, queer gestures, many of which walk the line of extended ephemera. While her work is not made to disappear, it is often utilitarian in a way that subjects it to erosion by daily life. Whether mending rips in the clothing of loved ones, making blankets, or weaving together materials that act as metaphors for family history, DeJesus-Sabella brings the skill of an expert crafter to her thoughtful, intellectually- demanding art.
What continues to draw me to her work is the ongoing dialogue it creates between conceptual high art and crafting, which is often dismissed as lower-brow and having been made by hobbyists instead of real artists. As a student in the Fibers department at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, DeJesus-Sabella was met with indifference to and dismissal of the direction she wanted to take her work in. She initially felt pressure to explore more abstract, sculptural approaches. But for her thesis, she began making weaved pieces, strong and durable, at odds with more delicate, wispy works designed to be archived behind a piece of UV plexiglass. She uses weaving as a way to achieve intricate color combinations, patterns, and textures under its history as a pre-industrial life skill considered to be women’s work.
The strength of her work comes mostly from her play on ideas about utility. Things are either useful in unexpected ways or made of traditionally useful materials taken out of the context of their accepted use. Sophia DeJesus-Sabella, who now lives and works in rural Connecticut where she grew up, says her dream job is to be a production weaver. Her working-class background, electrician father, and painter mother led her to have an artist’s appreciation of the potential for poetry in labor. Like the films of Kevin Jerome Everson, her art finds the rhythms in, and acknowledges the difficulty and longevity of, work. It finds the humanity and aesthetic of labor without being sentimental or accepting of oppressive conditions under which labor is often demanded and exploited. It is a concentration of daily working class life that says moving experiences can come from tattered clothing, cheap building material, or potholes as much as anything else.
Her college thesis project, Queering Classed Materials, pushed the limits of material and use in exciting ways that inspect various hybrid states inherent to the myriad of spectrums that make up the human experience. As a queer and intersex person, she understands all too well what it’s like to live in between socially constructed and imposed states of being. To weave and warp materials to do things they aren’t meant to, or to create art in places it isn’t meant to be found, is not just a way for DeJesus-Sabella to create metaphors for experience, it’s a way of projecting different parts of her identity into the world around her, which in itself is another way to create hybrids. Her brother, who she wasn’t always close with growing up, now wears pants that have been mended conspicuously with brightly colored embroidery floss, a manifestation of an adult sibling connection. Her mother, who has always prided herself on the condition of her home’s hardwood floors, has become the impetus for DeJesus-Sabella’s hardwood weavings.
This push and pull of material and concept speaks seriously but playfully to issues of sex and gender, class, labor, and personal queer identity. To hear the artist speak about these things does not necessarily clarify her intentions, but deepen the complexity of the viewer’s experience. Her pieces are thoughtful, philosophical, often useful, sometimes paradoxical, but always rich with so many of the things that make for a gratifying reckoning.
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