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Review: Sylvie Franquet: reMembering at October Gallery

Sylvie Franquet, Prisoner of Love, 2016. Wool, acrylic and lurex on cotton canvas sewn into ash frame, 80 x 100 cm. Photo: Jonathan Greet courtesy of October Gallery, London.

The artist Sylvie Franquet's first solo exhibition is currently being held at October Gallery, London. This stimulating exhibition showcases Franquet’s new works, including tapestries, fabric sculptures and installations, that explore the structure of culture, history and femininity. Franquet has spent most of her life immersed in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures, both of which have influenced and characterised her artistic voice in ‘reMembering’ through the layering of words from ancient myths and contemporary life in her embroideries.

On entering the exhibition space the viewer is drawn to the hanging tapestries that play on celebrated paintings of women by male artists. Franquet reworks the original images with needlepoint, overlaying them with further images, quotations and text messages from friends. She also modernises the tapestries by capturing a graffiti style effect through the use of vivid colours so that the stich work appears pixelated. Through the combination of the paintings conveying women through the male gaze and the historically female gendered art form of needlework, Franquet explores and questions the problematic historical status of gender.

One of Franquet’s tapestries entitled ‘Prisoner of Love’ is a rework of the revered Venus of Urbino by Titian. In the original work the female nude is conveyed as the object of the male gaze as she looks coyly at the male viewer in a way that highlights her sensuality. However, in Franquet’s tapestry her eyes appear closed or gazing downwards which perhaps has the effect of focusing her nature as a purely sexual object - unequal to man. The embroidery inspired by Mignon McLaughlin highlights this: ‘ Nymphomaniac: A women as obsessed with sex as an average man’.

Sylvie Franquet, The Wayward Sisters, 2016. Installation 99 rag dolls, embroidered with wisdoms, poems, thoughts and text messages. Photo: Jonathan Greet courtesy of October Gallery, London.

The tapestries work together with ninety-nine small cloth dolls, displayed on the opposite wall, to overwhelm the viewer. The dolls, interpreted as a battalion of Shakespeare’s Wayward Sisters, are embroidered with words of wisdom, poems, thoughts and text messages. Traditionally considered toys for girls, these dolls explore the starkly separated realms of gender. The life size mannequins develop the theme of the graffiti embroidery of sentences and myths seen in Franquet’s tapestries and dolls. Franquet sews life-size fabric mannequins, measured against her own body, in which she develops and culminates the theme of exploring sexuality with sayings and myths such as Germano Celant’s ‘slowly she dresses herself in a history that belonged to her gender’.

The exhibition effectively relays historical gender issues through the embroideries as it guides the viewer across the works coming to an apex with life-size figures. This has the function of bringing the quotations and images to a certain reality. What’s more, the pulsating vibrancy of the colours within the tapestries and embroideries enter your memory.

Sylvie Franquet is exhibiting at the October Gallery until January 28th

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