Enfant terrible of British textile arts in Australian debut

Big swinging ovaries: Detail from one of Jess de Wahls' works.
Big swinging ovaries: Detail from one of Jess de Wahls' works.

London’s Jess de Wahls, known as the ‘enfant terrible of British textile arts’ for her boundary-pushing, provocative artworks, is heading to the Blue Mountains next month to premiere her first Australian exhibition and deliver a series of workshops.

The exhibition Big Swinging Ovaries, taking place at Platform Gallery in Katoomba, will feature Wahls’ signature embroideries, where her ovary motif is stylised into various maximalist patterns, including ovaries as cacti, rainbows, David Bowie and Frida Kahlo.

Wahls will also run two embroidery workshops at Platform following the opening, where participants can learn how to make their own feminist textile works.

“Since I first developed it for a solo exhibition in 2014, the Big Swinging Ovaries name and design has very much become a brand and a visual tool for expressing many of my creative, political and social thoughts as a woman, a feminist and a textile artist,” said Wahls.

“I use my work to explore societal ideas of what it means to be a woman: from governments trying to restrict and legislate what women do with their bodies, to society judging women for both having and not having ovaries. Traditionally ovaries are such an integral part of being a woman, and yet there are many other ways of being a woman, from being a transgender woman to having had reproductive organs removed surgically to just being born in a body that doesn’t conform to any gender.

“What matters to me is that people make up their own mind and interpret my art for themselves, no matter what I intended. What matters is whether or not the work speaks to you.”

Curator of Platform Gallery, Kelly Heylen, said: “I am so thrilled to welcome Jess as our first international exhibiting artist. In starting Platform, I wanted to show that craft and textiles could be so much more than what nana used to make. Most of our shows have some sort of progressive social theme, from feminism to queer bodies to the environment, and Jess’s work captures all of these and more.”

Wahls’ exhibition in Katoomba will be her only Australian show, and strong pre-sales are expected. She will travel to Sydney and Brisbane to run further workshops before heading home to London.

Big Swinging Ovaries is showing from June 1-25 at Platform Gallery in the Town Centre Arcade, Katoomba. Opening night is from 5.30pm on June 1. Wahls’ workshops will take place on June 2 and 3 and workshop tickets can be booked online: www.platformgallery.co.