Thursday, December 10, 2015

The 5th Riga International Textile and Fibre Art Triennial - Tradition and Innovation - Riga Latvia.

The 5th Riga International Textile and Fibre Art Triennial “Unity & Diversity” was held at the Arsenals Exhibition Hall of the Latvian National Museum of Art, RigaLatvia from the 23rd April until the 10thJune 2015.

 Latvia is the country of Presidency of the Council of the European Union for 2015. Riga is the capital city of Latvia which is one of the Baltic countries lying adjacent to Poland and Russia and between Estonia and Lithuania.
There were 85 artists selected to take part out of 186 entrants from 28 countries worldwide.  These included some well-known artists.
I was the only artist to represent South Africa while there was one other artist from Africa who represented Kenya.

The other artists came from as far afield as JapanChina and Costa Rica.
I spent just over a week in Riga, the capital city of Latvia.  It is a very charming city with an old history and some amazing architecture. Many of its finest old buildings are incredible examples of Art Nouveau architecture.  I first learned to appreciate Art Nouveau when I studied Art for four years at the world famous Glasgow School of Art in Scotland, designed by the architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh.   The Glasgow School of Art itself is an iconic example of Art Nouveau architecture.
Latvia was previously under Russian occupation and like many countries in Eastern Europe the newer parts of the city on the outskirts reflect the high rise flats of that period, sombre and grey - a huge contrast to the beauty and the refinement of this old Latvian city.

The exhibition in the Arsenals Halls was in the old beautiful part of the city near to where I stayed.  It was once used as a munition storage place and is cavernous with many open inter-leading rooms with high lofty vaulted ceilings.   It was a fine space and the exhibition designed by a museum designer was inspiring and vast.  Works were both two and three dimensional in the form of installations and videos.
Eastern Europe has a history of fine textile traditions and during the 1950s and early 1960s. Eastern European artists like Magdalena Abakanowicz of Poland had a huge influence on a new era in which artists expressed themselves not just in paint or stone, but also in textiles to create major, often dimensional, works.
This exhibition marked my coming of age, with my 21st international exhibition.   I have previously shown in nearby Lithuania and Poland but not before in Latvia.
To my utter amazement, on the opening night I was presented with the Award of Recognition of the Riga City Council.  I still feel honored to have received this award from this special city.
My installation on the show was named “Simunye – We are One” (2014).  In spite of many problems in our new democracy we have come a long way from the position of pre-1994 Apartheid South Africa.  My work is a tribute to Nelson Mandela’s dream of a new unified South AfricaNokwanda  (1)   and I share diverse ancestry.  Hers involves South African tribes, Swazi, Xhosa and Zulu.  Mine includes European and Colonial South African dating back to 1820. 

· Fiona Kirkwood is a pioneer in her field in South Africa and internationally. She is noted for the cutting edge manner in which she combines fine art and weaving to create highly textured multi- media conceptual works.
Her unique way of mixing unorthodox materials to make sculptures and installations sets her apart. Her works are usually monumental, dramatic and manifest a powerful physical presence.
Her work since 1980 has involved an exploration of magical, ritual, social, political, environmental, and spiritual and identity themes.
Kirkwood’s works reflect her awareness of the spirit of South Africa and the energy and vibrancy of KwaZulu-Natal, where she lives, the transition from the apartheid era to post-apartheid democracy, HIV/AIDS and environmental issues, of pollution, the endangerment of large mammals, and climate change.
The underlying message, which lies central to much of her work, is a desire to protect all forms of life. At times she has taken on the role of an activist.
Kirkwood’s work consists of large sculptures and installations of textiles, mixed media and video which reflect these conceptual concerns. She has also incorporated performance into her works.
Fiona Kirkwood's work has been widely recognized and highly respected internationally. She has exhibited in 12 Solo exhibitions in South Africa and South Korea and 61 group exhibitions both in South Africa and Internationally, including Scotland, Italy, France, India, Poland, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Lithuania, Latvia, Australia, Argentina, United States, Canada, Slovakia, Ukraine, Hungary, Czech Republic and Russia.
She has works in many public and private collections in South Africa and abroad.
She has received major awards nationally and internationally, including as a Merit Award winner for Vita Craft Now 1997, PretoriaSouth Africa; a First Prize winner at ‘Textile 05’ Kaunas Art Biennial,Lithuania, 2005 and 2015 The Award of Recognition of the Riga City Council at Unity & Diversity, 5th Riga Triennial of Textile and Fibre Art., RigaLatvia.
Apart from her work as a practising artist, Fiona Kirkwood has lectured at several Universities in Fine Art, Art Education and Fashion Design, and run her own Art School. She has also worked as an art therapist, designed sets and costumes for theatre and curated exhibitions both nationally and internationally, including ‘Skin to Skin’ exhibited at the Kaunas Art Biennial, Kaunas 2007, Lithuania and Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg 2008
Kirkwood has individually represented South Africa on many international Biennials and Triennials.

(1)  Nokwanda was a neighbour of mine for many years.  I watched her grow up as a young girl, who always smiled and waved at me and called my name.  She has now become a beautiful young woman.