Environmental issues are deeply important to Vanessa Barragão, especially when it comes to textiles. As one of the most polluting industries in the world, the textile industry has a long, long way to go before it can be truly described as sustainable. Intensive farming of plants like cotton requires pesticides and erodes topsoil, treating and dyeing fibres sends harmful chemicals into the soil and waterways, and processing fibres into textiles uses huge amounts of energy - not to mention the disposable waste produced as a result.
As a textile artist, Vanessa is concerned not to contribute to the production of industrial waste and pollution. Instead, she believes in “upcycling” - reusing and recycling already existing materials to create brand-new, reimagined pieces. She reclaims off-cuts and “waste” materials from local factors instead of purchasing new fibres and fabrics. Rather than let heavy machinery do the work, she makes her tapestries by hand, using age-old techniques like latch hook, felt, knitting, macrame, and crochet.
One of her most recent projects is the botanical tapestry - a woven map celebrating the unique geographic and ecological characteristics of each continent. It took over 520 overs to (hand)weave and is made up of 8kg of jute and cotton and 42kg of recycled wool. The tapestry depicts organisms like threatened coral reef species and protected plants, including cypripedium calceolus, pulsatilla vulgaris, ginkgo biloba, and bulbophyllum ankylochele, reflecting Vanessa’s commitment to drawing attention to the environmental concerns. Installed in Heathrow Airport’s second terminal, the Botanical Tapestry was commissioned to celebrate the partnership between Heathrow and Kew Gardens. Perhaps visitors to the airport will be inspired to consider the impact of their own flying habits as they come across this visual reminder of humanity’s impact on the planet.