Image: Hard Knock Life For Us. Appliqué, hand stitching, buttons. Courtesy of Marcia Bennett-Male.
Interview and text: Julie Parmenter.
Marcia Bennett-Male is a sculptor and stone carver and will have her first solo exhibition of textiles work at The Knitting & Stitching Show, at Alexandra Palace, London from 6 to 9 October, and at Harrogate Convention Centre from 17 to 20 November, 2022. For Selvedge, she talks to Julie Parmenter.
Julie: Marcia, we are honoured that you have chosen The Knitting & Stitching Show for the very first exhibition of your textile art. As a sculptor and stone mason, what made you want to work with the very different medium of textiles?
Marcia: I am returning to textiles. I went to art college with a textile and print portfolio. Before that, I was studying theatre wardrobe. I discovered the stone yard at college. I had always been curious about what seemed a very elitist medium. I kept printing, and took to the physical, meditative practice of carving.
Julie: Your first solo textiles exhibition, Moments to Myself, explores the challenge of finding time to fully be ourselves. What was the inspiration for this body of work?
Marcia: The inspiration is ongoing. It’s my life, my observations, reading up on Black women in history. I rediscovered from my portfolio the cut-out, cartoon-like figure that I now use. After a period of time, I realised that I had built up a body of work. The textiles were in a pile on my old bed, stored at my mother’s house.
Image: English Rose. Appliqué, hand stitching, button. Courtesy of Marcia Bennett-Male.
Julie: Your work is characterized by symbols that represent both your Afro-Caribbean heritage and England, where you were born, brought up, and live. From chintz, florals, and the Union Jack, to the blue bird of happiness, the minstrel’s smile, and distinctive Dutch/African wax print fabrics. Is there conflict between these elements in your art?
Marcia: I wouldn’t call it conflict, not within my artwork. The motifs and the shorthand I use with my choice of fabrics, I regard as tools.
Julie: You have studied and trained in European and ecclesiastical embroidery, with embroidery featuring prominently in your work. But you have said that “as a textile artist, I’m not interested in a multitude of intricate stitches and techniques. For me, getting the image out of my head as quickly as possible to view is more important.” Can you tell us more about that and why that immediacy is so important?
Marcia: Once I had found the medium to help me vent, the imagery, and titles for them came pouring out. One textile would be started whilst another image had to be drawn. The ideas would, and do, leapfrog over each other for execution. My very first piece, called Happy Pills, was worked in appliqué with long and short stitch, and I sometimes have to use beadwork in a textile. If I do, it’s because it’ll really make the textile pop. But I do it reluctantly, because it slows me down. However, I don’t do any machine work. I need— enjoy —the meditative action of hand sewing.
Image: Just When I Thought I Was Queen. Appliqué, hand stitching, beadwork, button, chicken wishbone. Courtesy of Marcia Bennett-Male.
Julie: The Black female experience is at the heart of much of your textile work, including the exploration of aspects of mental health and self-worth. How important is making art to your own mental health and wellbeing?
Marcia: Fundamentally important! Many of my textiles depict my experiences, and they have been bottled up for most of my life, apart from when I was having therapy. Seeing my experiences and thoughts out in physical form is a great release. Using my cut-out figure softens the sharper topics that I cover.
Image: Happy, Smiley, Darkie Lady. Appliqué, hand stitching, button, pom-poms. Courtesy of Marcia Bennett-Male.
You can see more of Marcia's work at www.mbennettmale.co.uk
The Knitting & Stitching Show takes place from 6 to 9 October, at Alexandra Palace, London. It features galleries by leading textile artists including Aran Illingworth; Archana Pathak; Maggie Scott; Marcia Bennett-Male; The 62 Group at 60; Vivienne Beaumont; and Jess Blaustein, the 2022 winner of The Fine Art Textiles Award.
SELVEDGE readers attending the London show can claim £2.00 off adult advance tickets, and £2.00 off concessions using the code SELVEDGE22. Please note that the discount code expires at 23:59 on Wednesday 5th October 2022, and is not applicable on Saturday 8th October.
SELVEDGE readers attending the Harrogate show can claim £3.00 off adult advance tickets, and £3.50 off concessions, using the same code: SELVEDGE22 Please note that the discount code expires at 23:59 on Wednesday 16th November.