Zoë Buckman is known for her needling work—and that’s not just because her art predominantly involves embroidery. Her subject matter, which explores experiences of gendered violence and trauma, consistently picks at the pervasive social and political environments that enable these harms.
The artist is celebrating her first solo exhibition in the U.K, “Bloodwork,” now on view at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery in London, features a new suite of embroidery on vintage textiles that shine a spotlight on survivors—of domestic abuse, illness, or other personal challenges—many of whom are in her own circle of friends. Buckman’s portraits capture these subjects in moments of jubilation and happiness, daring to embrace joy in the face of disconcerting difficulties.
It’s a big year for Buckman, whose work is also currently on view in a major exhibition at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, curated by artist Hank Willis Thomas and his For Freedoms foundation. Earlier this year, she also exhibited at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design, the Shirley Fiterman Art Center at Borough of Manhattan Community College, and Mother Gallery in Tribeca, as well as the Baltimore Museum of Art.
We caught up with the artist at her home studio in Brooklyn about securing vintage embroidery threads at auction, her distaste for “lazy” art, and the transformative power of giving artwork room to breathe.
Can you send us a snap of the most indispensable item(s) in your studio and tell us why you can’t live without it?
These are vintage silk threads, most of which I got by bidding in auctions. They’re mainly from Italy and India. Though I could probably find contemporary equivalents, I do need to feel excited about the making process in order to get the results I want, and knowing that these have come from afar in terms of place and time makes me more eager to use them to tell our stories today.
What is a studio task on your agenda this week that you are most looking forward to?
The work for my solo show is complete, and it was really labor intense! I’m looking forward to working with my gallery this week to put together a catalogue for the show—being able to pull back the lens and view the series as a completed whole (as completed as a show ever gets, which is never fully complete but rather a good resting point!). I’m excited.
What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? Why?
I constantly have music playing in my studio. I work alone and it can be isolating, so having sound around me can breathe life into my mood and into my work. And because music, lyrics and poetry are huge inspirations for my practice itself, it’s helpful to have part of my brain connected to words and meaning.
Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?
Toyin Ojih Odutola
Is there a picture you can send of your current work in progress at the studio?
When you feel stuck while preparing for a show, what do you do to get unstuck?
It’s always best for me to walk away from a piece or idea if it’s not flowing and revisit it the next day. When I’ve completed a work, I usually live with it in my space/in conversation with the rest of the series for some time before I declare it complete and send pics to my gallery. Sometimes on those days I’ll glance at it and something will feel off, usually it’s a feeling that manifests as a bit of sickness in my stomach, like: “That bit there is yuck, I’m gonna change it.” But that feeling can do a total 180 a few days later, so honestly giving one’s work some breathing room is so, so valuable if it’s possible.
What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you most despise?
I’m drawn to art that draws you in and holds you while it delivers a powerful message. I’m drawn to art that is well made, and has something to say.
I don’t like art that is basic or lazy; that’s not to say that I despise simplicity. There is often such power to the stripped back, raw and simple. But lazy art I have no time for.
What images or objects do you look at while you work? Share your view from behind the canvas or your desktop—wherever you spend the most time.
I live with books of artists I admire around me. They are part of the fabric of my studio and I’ll often rest a cup of tea on an art book—something I don’t consider to be a disrespect. I hope people live with my book when I have one. I hope the pages get crumpled from use and they spill on it because it was used to support their morning coffee or evening cocktail.
What is the last exhibition you saw that made an impression on you and why?
Wardell Milan’s solo show at the Bronx Museum curated by Jasmine Wahi was devastating and stunning. Faith Ringgold at the New Museum was iconic.
What made you choose this particular studio over others?
I had no choice: my studio is my living room!
Describe the space in three adjectives.
Mine. Finally. Mine.
How does the studio environment influence the way you work?
I’m not by any stretch of the imagination a neat freak, but I can’t have too much clutter and hazarai around me as it makes me feel tetchy. So, I’ll often do a quick clean up in the morning, light some incense, chant some mantras, blare some tunes and get to work.
“Zoë Buckman: Bloodwork” is on view at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, 6 Heddon Street, London, September 2–October 1, 2022.
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It’s hard not to be awestruck standing in front of the Parthenon marbles. The collection of sculptures adorned the famous archeological site, which was originally built as a temple to Athena in mid-400 B.C.E. and is one of the best examples of classical architecture remaining today. It’s the crown of the Acropolis in Athens, and the sculptures are its crowning jewels. That said, if you’re standing in front of them today it is more likely to be in the ascetic setting of the British Museum than feeling the wind in your hair in the ancient citadel overlooking the Greek capital city.
The why has been for decades the center of an international debate on repatriation. In the early 19th century, a British diplomat, Lord Elgin, ordered the removal of around half of the sculptures, which were gifted to Queen Victoria and have sat in the British Museum ever since. Greece, unsurprisingly, isn’t thrilled about this, and Greek officials have long advocated for their return, insisting they were stolen. (Most recently, the Greek Culture Ministry held an international meeting at the Acropolis Museum on Friday, calling again for the repatriation of its precious heritage).
The British Museum maintains it is the legal owner of the Greek artifacts. While the debate plays out, the Acropolis Museum has subbed in plaster copies in place of the originals among its Parthenon collection, awaiting the return of the missing pieces from London. The ownership dispute is perhaps what the Parthenon marbles are best known for, but they are so much more than that: here are five surprising facts you didn’t know about them.
Boris Johnson Once Advocated for Their Return to Greece
Before he was prime minister, Johnson was the president of the Oxford Union and a keen classics student at university. In an unearthed 1986 article, the former prime minister vehemently advocated for the return of the Parthenon marbles to “a country of bright sunshine and the landscape of Achilles.” In a letter inviting Melina Mercouri—former actor and Greek culture minister—to address the union, Johnson wrote there was “absolutely no reason why” the Parthenon marbles should not be immediately returned to Athens.
More recently Johnson has changed his tune, falling in line with the U.K. government’s stance that they were taken legally. Removing himself further from the debate, last year Johnson said their return is “up to the British Museum.” While the trustees of the British Museum claim the Parthenon marbles transcend politics, the fact that Johnson’s decades-old opinion on the marbles became the central topic of a Prime Minister’s Questions session earlier this year proves otherwise.
They Were Originally Highly Colorful
The influence of ancient Greek architecture can be seen in cities all over the world; white neoclassical columns and sculptures have become synonymous with status and power, featuring everywhere from the White House in Washington D.C. to the National Gallery in London. It is somewhat ironic, therefore, that this minimalist homage to classical Greece is actually the opposite of the style at that time. The Greeks loved color and glitz, and their buildings and sculptures were usually brightly painted, the Parthenon included.
Archaeologists have used ultraviolet light and lasers to discover that the Parthenon marbles were originally painted red, blue and green. The marbles at the British Museum show less evidence of color than their fellows at the Acropolis, not because they were unpainted, but because they were subjected to an over-zealous cleaning using copper scrubbing brushes in the 1930s. What was mistaken for dirt was in fact a natural patina on the ancient stone.
Robot-Made Replicas Could Be on the Verge of Replacing Them
Experts at the Institute of Digital Archaeology (IDA) are making replicas of the Parthenon marbles, and engineers are offering a helping hand; or in this case, a robotic arm. Using 3D-scanning and a robot, specialists have carved replicas from rare Pentelic marble (the same kind of marble used for the Parthenon). The institute intends to exhibit the replicas in London nearby the British Museum. This proximity is intentional: viewers will see these sculptures before heading into the British Museum, allowing them to make a comparison. Some replicas will be presented in their original colors, juxtaposing with the worn and faded originals.
Breakthroughs in technology have made replicas like these possible, which could pave the way for wider restitution. If the purpose of an exhibit is to educate, then hyper-realistic replicas unworn by time could be used as a persuasive counterpoint in restitution cases beyond the Parthenon marbles.
They Have Survived Being Defaced and Blown Up
The Parthenon has undergone many changes throughout its long history. The temple standing today is a reconstruction of an older building destroyed by the Persians during their sacking of Athens ca. 480 B.C.E. In 334 B.C.E., Alexander the Great sent the shields of his conquered Persian enemies back to Athens where they were drilled to the Parthenon walls. Later, Christians repurposed the temple as a church, purposely defacing many mythological figures on the Parthenon marbles.
During the Siege of Athens in 1687, the Turks used the Parthenon for ammunition storage. When a mortar shell hit the building, the ensuing explosion killed 300 people and destroyed the temple’s roof and most of its walls. Today, climate change is a major threat to the ancient monuments on the Acropolis. Air pollution and acid rain are eroding the marble, making the protection of the Parthenon marbles in museums even more important.
There’s a Near-Perfect Replica in Nashville
While Athens and London were feuding over the Parthenon marbles, Nashville was building a full-scale replica of the Parthenon. Built in 1897 as part of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition, the temple was intended to be a temporary structure but quickly became popular with residents and visitors. Because of this, it was rebuilt in the 1920s with the input of classical scholars to be used for events and festivals.
This temple is now an art museum, and in 1990 a towering replica statue of Athena that once stood in the original Parthenon was added, gilt with more than eight pounds of gold leaf. The painted walls and metal embellishments are in keeping with the original style. Because of this, the Nashville Parthenon is one of the best ways to see the Parthenon marbles in their original context, as they would have been seen by Athenians when the temple was in its prime.
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