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Tiger Balm and Other Boxes

Tuesday, November 15, 2022 at 8:00am to 4:30pm

Martha Van Rensselaer Hall, 1250 Gallery

An exhibit by Sabeen Omar, Designer in Residence in Human Centered Design.  Curated by Prof. Denise Green.

How can I paint like I would embroider? This question has fueled my work for a very long time. The slow covering of a surface (as opposed to a quick brushstroke) and the connection to needlework I have with my mother, and she had with her mother, provoked this question. Painting with needlework has liberated me from the traditional rectangular canvas. I became inventive with surfaces, materials, and new forms. I found myself opening boxes, dismantling their form, and creating new substructures for my work.

The boxes simultaneously became surface and motif. I began layering boxes with oil pastel, oil paint, colored pencil, and graphite by cutting and slowly scraping away. Through this process, needles became a drawing tool that created intricate objects. I made marks by scraping, and used needles to create a diagonal grid pattern beneath the work. This underlying structure referenced the warp and weft in woven fabrics. Most recently, handkerchiefs have become my canvas and I experiment with removing warp and weft to create absences. I repopulate the surfaces with embroidery, crochet, and other needlepoint techniques. The needle is a tool that both creates and destroys. The materials I use are non-archival, meaning that my artwork will degrade and change over time. The notion of being precious about something that will not last is foundational to my practice and more broadly, to the ephemeral nature of reproductive labor.

Embracing temporariness in the work was a departure point for creating other types of non-lasting surfaces. I have been collecting my mother’s, sisters’ and my old clothes which I began to cut and dip in chalk gesso. When I layer these crisp surfaces with pastel, cut, scrape and sew them, the gesso slowly cracks; making them flexible, like fabric, again. When a piece is complete, I feel like I have imbibed treasured-ness into something that would otherwise have been thrown away.

Recently, I returned to boxes and have been drawn to the shape of a tiger balm box. I began to play with the form, but as I continued to work with it, I could not escape the fact that the women in my family have used this balm to massage away physical ailments. For as long as I can remember, we’ve used the contents held by the tiger balm box to alleviate physical pains that come with the repetitive motion of needlework and women’s daily labor. These oblique connections bring meaning into my work and offer a new kind of canvas where painting with needles and threads is both additive and subtractive.

How can I paint like I would embroider? This question has fueled my work for a very long time. The slow covering of a surface (as opposed to a quick brushstroke) and the connection to needlework I have with my mother, and she had with her mother, provoked this question. Painting with needlework has liberated me from the traditional rectangular canvas. I became inventive with surfaces, materials, and new forms. I found myself opening boxes, dismantling their form, and creating new substructures for my work.

The boxes simultaneously became surface and motif. I began layering boxes with oil pastel, oil paint, colored pencil, and graphite by cutting and slowly scraping away. Through this process, needles became a drawing tool that created intricate objects. I made marks by scraping, and used needles to create a diagonal grid pattern beneath the work. This underlying structure referenced the warp and weft in woven fabrics. Most recently, handkerchiefs have become my canvas and I experiment with removing warp and weft to create absences. I repopulate the surfaces with embroidery, crochet, and other needlepoint techniques. The needle is a tool that both creates and destroys. The materials I use are non-archival, meaning that my artwork will degrade and change over time. The notion of being precious about something that will not last is foundational to my practice and more broadly, to the ephemeral nature of reproductive labor.

Embracing temporariness in the work was a departure point for creating other types of non-lasting surfaces. I have been collecting my mother’s, sisters’ and my old clothes which I began to cut and dip in chalk gesso. When I layer these crisp surfaces with pastel, cut, scrape and sew them, the gesso slowly cracks; making them flexible, like fabric, again. When a piece is complete, I feel like I have imbibed treasured-ness into something that would otherwise have been thrown away.

Recently, I returned to boxes and have been drawn to the shape of a tiger balm box. I began to play with the form, but as I continued to work with it, I could not escape the fact that the women in my family have used this balm to massage away physical ailments. For as long as I can remember, we’ve used the contents held by the tiger balm box to alleviate physical pains that come with the repetitive motion of needlework and women’s daily labor. These oblique connections bring meaning into my work and offer a new kind of canvas where painting with needles and threads is both additive and subtractive.

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