Gio Swaby: Both Sides of the Sun, a Love Letter to Black Women, at Claire Oliver Gallery




Gio Swaby, Love Letters 5 (detail), fabric and thread stitched onto canvas, 3ft x 7ft, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist and Claire Oliver Gallery.

Claire Oliver Gallery is proud to announce the Gallery’s debut solo exhibition of Bahamian artist Gio Swaby. Both Sides of the Sun is comprised of more than 20 new works that range from life-scale line works, created entirely from thread without the aid of pre-drawn sketches, to small-scale intimate mixed-media textile portraits.  Swaby’s work seeks to underscore joy and resilience while showcasing the beauty in imperfection and individuality as a counterpoint to the often-politicized Black body.


Gio Swaby, Pretty Pretty 8 (detail), fabric and thread stitched onto canvas, 3ft x 7ft, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist and Claire Oliver Gallery.

“I consider my work to be love letters to Black women,” states Swaby. “My work operates within the context of understanding love as liberation, a healing and restorative force. These works celebrate personal style, resilience, strength, beauty, individuality and imperfections. They are a tribute to Black women and residue of the beautiful connections we’ve created.  Being dispersed geographically, I thought of the sun as a connector between us – love radiating out like the sun.”

In the Artist’s series ‘Pretty Pretty’, the viewer meets the gaze of the subjects that have been stitched on the reverse side of the canvas, embracing the beauty in imperfection. The process of stitching is laid bare, showcasing the knots and threads on the reverse side, which makes reference to the complexity of these individuals and shares a moment of vulnerability with the viewer. Swaby explores personal style as a tool of resistance; resisting being unseen and navigating the contradictory experience of invisibility and hypervisibility. This work also explores resistance through the gaze, navigating the power dynamics of looking and observation in public space and the ways in which Black bodies often become a spectacle. Nodding to activist and author bell hooks’s statement “there is power in looking,” this series explores the concept of looking back as a moment of empowerment, a tool to subvert the white gaze.

Gio Swaby, Love Letters 3, Fabric and Thread Stitched onto Canvas, 3ft x 7ft, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist and Claire Oliver Gallery.

In her polychrome textile series Love Letters, Swaby creates intimate portraits of the Black women who surround her, celebrating their individuality and reclaiming space through unapologetic self-expression. Imbuing her sitters with what the artist terms “Black joy,” Swaby aims to redefine the often-politicized Black body that is so frequently linked to violence and trauma.  In a rebuke of this narrative, Swaby’s work reinforces the multitudes of emotions, talents, preferences, and characteristics that form an individual.  Swaby’s process begins with a photograph, capturing a moment of empowerment in her sitter that is the starting place for the work’s exploration.

Gio Swaby Swaby graduated with an Associate of Arts degree in Fine Art from The University of The Bahamas and with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Film, Video and Integrated Media from Emily Carr University of Art + Design. Swaby’s multimedia practice encompasses textile, installation, collage, performance and video. She is currently an MFA candidate at OCAD University in Toronto, where she currently resides. Follow the artist on Instagram.

Gio Swaby: Both Sides of the Sun on view from April 10 to June 5, 2021 at Claire Oliver Gallery, 2288 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd, between 134/135th Streets, NYC.