Friday Dispatch: 17/06
Anya Paintsil: We Are All Made of You
Ed Cross Fine Art, Garrett Street
26 May – 29 June 2022
Anya Paintsil is widely known for her rugs using wool, braiding hair and human hair. Rug hooking brings her back to her Welsh roots, paying homage to the creativity that emerged when she was taught by her maternal grandmother. From a young age, the Welsh-Ghanian artist noticed the similarities between the craft of rug making and the adornment and intricacy of West African hairstyles, weaving both traditions together in her artistic practice.
The subject of Paintsil’s portraits is often her family, drawing on stories and memories of childhood and the world around her. Her wall hangings echo the artist’s experience of growing up Black in rural north Wales and the struggle to locate herself in a rather insular community.
We Are All Made of You is Paintsil’s first solo-show in London. Presented at Ed Cross’s new gallery space in Garrett Street, her recent work links her family members with mythical figures from Welsh and Ghanaian folktales and visual traditions.
When there are no trees birds will perch on men’s heads, 2022 shows a naked woman against a light blue background, her facial features and limbs pronounced. Long hair twists project from the head and cascade past the rug’s border, taking centre stage. Starring Welsh folk heroine Rhiannon, the rug takes its title from an Akan proverb and its composition draws from Fante flags. In the earliest prose stories in Britain the ‘birds of Rhiannon’ are mentioned as three magical birds, whose song can ‘wake the dead and lull the living to sleep’. In Paintsil’s interpretation they reside in a nest on the female figure’s head, evoking a dreamlike and surreal atmosphere.
Similarly, Blod, 2022 also presents a naked Black woman’s body. The female figure with an arching elongated arm, decorated with yellow and blue flowers is a representation of Blodeuwedd (translated as ‘flower face’), a character who first appeared in Welsh manuscripts in the 12th–13th centuries. Nearby, a wall hanging called Bolognese, 2022 takes its title from a nickname for Paintsil’s younger brother Levi. Depicted as a little boy, he seems to peek out from a white, fluffy towel after a shower. Rendered in Paintsil’s textiles, the soft tactility of his cocoon radiates from its surface. The image is evocative of the dual vulnerability of nakedness and childhood, at the same time Paintsil’s brother resembles a priest or a pilgrim wearing a white robe.
Paintsil’s skilful textiles, with their rugged, rough textures, make the labour and the vast amount of time that goes into their production evident. In her compelling ouevre, she manages to find synergy and a symbiosis between cultural elements that may seem opposed at first. By incorporating Afro-textured hair into her Welsh influenced rugs We Are All Made of You might also question foreign beauty standards imposed on women of colour and Black women. Inviting the viewer to enter complex debates about gender and cultural identity, ultimately, Paintsil’s intimate family scenes strongly express what reclaiming power and space look like on the artist’s own terms.
Christine Takengny (she/her)
Ed Cross, 19 Garrett Street London EC1Y 0TY
Opening Times: Tuesday – Satuday 11am – 6pm
Exhibition Open until 29 June