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Gio Swaby Explores Blackness In “Fresh Up” at the Museum of Fine Arts

“My work operates in the context of understanding love as liberation – a healing and restorative force. These pieces celebrate personal style. Vulnerability, strength, beauty, individuality, and imperfections.” -Gio Swaby.

The Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, is presenting the first solo museum exhibition of the multidisciplinary artist Gio Swaby. Swaby’s work explores the intersection of Blackness and womanhood through the portrait genre, with a touch of the sewing medium.

Swaby works in series format, and her exhibition will display artworks she’s been working on since 2017. Her mother was a seamstress, and her childhood was surrounded by fabrics, threads and needlework. 

She explores the sewing medium in her life-size series Pretty Pretty, where each of the subjects are rendered using freehand lines of thread. Then, they are shown on the reverse of the canvas, making the stitching process visible.

She explores sewing by using it as a metaphor for vulnerability, embracing imperfections through the visible threads.

As such, her art displays domesticity, and her work is imbued with familiarity. 

Her portraits start with a photo shoot, where her sitters are captured in a pose of empowerment. She highlights her subjects’ use of fashion as a medium for self-definition and expression.

Swaby’s work is in many permanent collections of public institutions across the United States.

The exhibition is a collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago, and it’s set to open in 2023.

They’ll release a fully illustrated catalogue published by Rizzoli Electa, and also featuring an interview between Swaby and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Nikole Hannah-Jones, and a series introductions by the artist, essays by Melinda Watt. 

She states in her introduction that Gio’s work evokes awe and comfort, and its approachable as you must pause and admire her grace upon creating the art.

The catalogue reflects 60 works in full color, spanning 2017-2021. It provides context with Swaby’s artistic trajectory, and a discussion of art and accessibility.

The collection also has personal texts by Gio Swaby, serving as context to each of the seven series that are part of her exhibition. These also include essays by the co-curators. You can purchase these for $35 USD.

Swaby is a 29-year-old Bahamian visual artist currently based in Toronto. Her personal website is here.

Swaby has a BFA in Film, Video and integrated Media from Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Vancouver, BC. She’s working on an MFA in Interdisciplinary Art, Media and Design at OCAD University, Toronto, ON.

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