‘Gio Swaby, I Will Blossom Anyway’ to Open at Claire Oliver Gallery during Frieze Week




Gio Swaby, Together We Bloom 3, 2023, 64. 52 in., Cotton fabric and thread sewn on muslin. Image courtesy Claire Oliver Gallery.

Claire Oliver Gallery is pleased to announce an exhibition of new work by artist Gio Swaby, I Will Blossom Anyway. The exhibition features life-scale textile works including six self-portraits and a grid work of nine silhouettes. This new series explores the concept of dual identities and the cognizance of “other” experienced by immigrants living in a foreign culture. Through detailed sewn line drawing and quilting, Swaby conveys intimacy and beauty in the humanity and imperfection of her subjects. The artist displays the back sides of her canvases to the viewer as the finished work to showcase the knots and loose threads, which signify the sitter’s ongoing journey of life.  In I Will Blossom Anyway, Swaby turns this reflection and loving gaze inward, an introspective view of her own journey.  The works will be on view in Harlem May 19 – July 29, 2023.

“In this series I reflected a lot about my own path from the Bahamas to Toronto and how my identity has felt in-between two cultures and two selves,” states Swaby. “In this series I aim to bring both sides of these selves together, to approach them with love and acceptance.”

Gio Swaby, Self-portrait 6, 2023, 28 x 38 in., Cotton fabric and thread sewn on muslin. Image courtesy Claire Oliver Gallery.

Gio Swaby originally drew from the concept of Double Consciousness originally coined by W.E.B. Debois in his 1903 work, The Souls of Black Folk where he described how Black people are taught to see themselves through the eyes of a racist and unloving society. Swaby’s work is a marked counterpoint to this: intentionally serving as a love letter to Black and Brown women, often her friends, through a gaze that is loving and aims to see the whole person in their imperfections, personal style, strength and eccentricities as a counterpoint to the often-politicized depictions of Black bodies. Swaby uses this as a starting point to reflect on her lived experience of being a Bahamian immigrant living in Toronto and how she experiences a dual self: one that is not Canadian but not unchanged by her experience there when she returns to the Bahamas either. I Will Blossom Anyway uses this framework to turn the artist’s signature embrace inward, offering an intimate and unguarded view of her personal self-reflection and identity.

Having grown up in the Bahamas surrounded by the materials her seamstress mother used, Swaby chose to work in textiles—a medium traditionally associated with domesticity and femininity—as a means to imbue her works with both familiarity and labor-intensive care. She upends tradition, however. Not only do her life-size portraits give a sense of monumentality to the techniques of embroidery and piecing, but she also presents the reverse side of her intricately rendered canvases so that the stitching process of her freehand style—the normally hidden knots and loose threads—is visible. While there’s a vulnerability to “showing the back,” Swaby embraces and elevates these imperfections.

Gio Swaby, Where I Know You From 3, 2023, 80 x 44 in., Cotton fabric and thread sewn on muslin. Image courtesy Claire Oliver Gallery.

I Will Blossom Anyway is Swaby’s second solo exhibition at Claire Oliver Gallery. The presentation coincides with the artist’s second solo museum exhibition Fresh Up, currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago. Swaby received her MFA from OCAD University in Toronto, where she currently resides.

Gio Swaby, I Will Blossom Anyway will be on view from May 19 to July 29, 2023 at Claire Oliver Gallery, 2288 Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, NYC. An Opening Reception will be held on May 19th from 6-8pmm.

I Will Blossom Anyway coincides with the artist’s second solo museum exhibition, Fresh Up at The Art Institute of Chicago through July 3, 2023.

While you’re in Harlem, don’t miss 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair ~ part of FriezeWeek ~ located at Malt House.

Continue on to Frieze New York and Frieze Week 2023.