It started somewhere among the vast archives of the Historic Northampton Museum in Northampton, Massachusetts. Fiber artist Jodi Colella was working on an art project inspired by the museum’s headwear collection, and she stumbled upon a series of daguerreotype portraits. “They were like little 18th and 19th century selfies,” Colella says. “I noticed that all the men in the images had every single detail of their life listed in the catalog. About 80% of the women were labeled ‘unidentified.’” The artist was fascinated by these forgotten, female faces, and the contrast between the women’s fleeting social visibility and their invisibility to history. After hunting down similar portraits in flea markets and antique shops, Colella stitched intricate embroideries across the images, further obscuring the women’s identities. The body of work, titled Unidentified Women, makes its Santa Fe debut at form & concept on Friday, January 26 from 5-7 pm. Colella will appear at the opening reception, and also conduct an artist talk on Thursday, January 25 from 2-3 pm.
“In the end, these women were lost,” Colella says. “I think of it as lost lives and labor. By using labor that’s often culturally identified as feminine, I wanted to bring out their identities.” She first exhibited the Unidentified Women embroideries in 2016 at the Historic Northampton Museum, along with a series of wearable sculptures that referenced the history of women’s headwear. Both projects centered on the cultural interplay between conformity and individuality, personhood and objectification. The works examine ways that gender, race, social status and economic power has dictated who was recorded—and how they were presented—through history. “In many of the images, the women are hiding or being hidden in some way—but they’re also being shown,” Colella says. “So it’s that tension between showing that they’ve been hidden and celebrating their visibility.”
Colella grew up in Massachusetts, in a family of artists and craftspeople. As a child, she developed a passion for knitting, embroidery and other fiber arts. After completing a certificate program for graphic design at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, she launched a successful career as a designer that spanned nearly two decades. In 2000, she took a break to focus on fine art, and never went back. Colella has since exhibited her fiber artwork across the nation, including in the Surface Design Association’s international juried exhibition Shifting Landscapes at form & concept in February, 2017.
“For Shifting Landscapes, we showed two of Jodi’s China Samplers, which are meticulous embroideries on Mao propaganda magazines from the 1960’s,” says Frank Rose, Gallery Director of form & concept. “In that work and in Unidentified Women, she’s bringing complex realities of the past to light with compassionate attention and incredible skill. These artworks can help us understand how we’ve arrived at our present cultural and political moment.” Unidentified Women will appear on form & concept’s staircase and catwalk. The original set of 16 embroideries, measuring 2 x 3 inches, will appear with a never-before-seen series of larger works from the ongoing series. “After the project at the museum, I knew I wasn’t done with the daguerreotypes,” says Colella. “There’s a poignancy to these images that has kept me working. These are women I don’t know, no one knows them anymore, but I’ve found a way to meet them again.”
I redefine needle art techniques and transform the everyday into works of contemporary relevance. There is a presence of the maker in the shape of thousands of stitches, hand-wrought forms and, as in my collaboratives, the orchestrated actions of many.
Influenced by my travels, I draw from historical and cultural experiences around me that extend from my neighborhood to time spent in the Far East.
The exhibit Unidentified Woman engages with the collections at Historic Northampton and the forces that have shaped women’s identities since the 18th century by fusing personal experiences and ideologies into sculptures that contribute to the progress of both art and feminism.