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Advocating Feminism Through Textile Art — Holly Wong

Today's world has regarded and honoured historical women who have stood up in a society that silenced them and confined them to their homes. Women, considered to be the weaker sex have often been absent from public life and subjected to pure pursuit of traditional gender roles. When several women began questioning the status quo, the first wave of feminism began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The wave focused on property rights, education and equal employment opportunities. Artists contributed through creative expressions challenging societal norms. Visual works such as ‘The Dinner Party’ by Judy Chicago questioned the erasure of women through the depiction of women’s achievements and prominent mythical and historical figures.

As the movement gained traction and mass acceptance, changes in society led to women acquiring equality over time. However, the unexplored recesses of society still house the traditional values that women are speaking up against. The San Francisco Bay artist Holly Wong, like many women, grew up witnessing these disparities. Losing her mother at the young age of 15, given how she was a victim of domestic violence, had a debilitating impact on her. This made her question the role of women in society As the old adage suggests “Adversity is the catalyst for artistic brilliance”, the textile artist wanted to document feminist themes in collaboration with the concept of brokenness inspired by the memory of her mother. Her works, she calls are the highest act of resilience and healing from the past.

Inspired by her mother, Holly began creating installation pieces through the use of various types of fabric and flexible drawing surfaces like paper. Holly’s recent artistic process was inspired by Chinese traditions for the deceased. Her Chinese husband Al Wong, who is also a reputed artist, shared with her the customs for the deceased where colourful layers of cloth are laid on the dead, a practice often followed by the children of the deceased — the system held a deeper meaning for her as she saw it as a permeable separation between the living and the dead. Holly went beyond just quilting American pieces and pursued the practice of incorporating the use of gossamer and transparent fabrics with the integration of light.

a fabric and LED light art installation
Body of Light, Installation of Fabric and LED Light, 2023

Her ongoing series “Quilt Suspensions” adopts the Chinese custom in the most literal and unique way. Her work “Body of Light” has a LED light strip cloaked in transparent quilts woven with colourful pieces of fabric. The light acts as a proxy for her mother whilst the fabric succumbs to the Chinese custom of layered shrouds, the fabric also acts like a barrier between the world of living and dead. The sheerness of the fabric gives it a spirited appearance which adds to the beauty of the concept. People have different ways of honouring the dead, the artist on the other hand, wanted to honour her mother by allocating an artistic and beautiful concept to her memory.

A colourful woven drafting film sculpture on wall
Arachne I, Colored Pencil With Graphite on Woven Drafting Film, 2020

The series, one of many, also communicates a general understanding and predicament that women face in society, from domestic and sexual violence to being silenced and facing the consequences of being devoid of equal rights. Her works communicating strength and beauty represent the idea of ‘Woman’ and how they’re often represented in society as beautiful but weak. She has also named many of her works after powerful mythological figures like ‘Persephone’, ‘Arachne’, ‘Athena’ and ‘Artemis’. Fabric work has always been associated with the womenfolk and despite its importance and value, it was looked upon as a lesser job, Holly manifests it into something powerful and beautiful and capitalises on them which shifts the perspective on fabric work. The integration of feminist themes such as tenacity and power that is begotten by painful experiences from a woman’s life seeks to establish itself and ingrain a positive image in an era where violence against women, toxic beauty standards, societal expectations and sexualisation continue to persist.

A fabric art installation made of silk and polyester organza, cellophane, dichroic film, vinyl table cloth and scanned images of paintings and drawings
Guardian of The Spirits, Silk, Polyester Organza, Cellophane, Dichroic Film, Vinyl Table Cloth and Scanned Images of Paintings and Drawings, 2022

Holly’s work “Guardian of Spirits” also takes the concept of feminine strength forward. The present era has been notorious for body-shaming women which has led to several host of mental disorders like anorexia and bulimia coupled with depression. The large-scale installation piece appears to be a fragile and ethereal, yet glorious piece that dominates a huge space and towers over the viewers. The concept of beautiful intimidation is meant to portray the beauty and frailty of a woman whilst showing protectiveness and strength through its height and the power of her voice and existence through the acquisition of a large space. Regardless of her appearance, the work represents a woman unabashed by her looks and body type by taking up space and not letting society shun her.

"Guardian refers to the protective way of the female spirit, that it is a protector and that it’s a force and I think that a lot of my work now definitely draws from that the notion of being a protective force" — Holly Wong

The textile artist explores feminism and feminity through her work which actively builds a rapport with her viewers who identify themselves with similar themes. While textile art is yet to gain its recognised place in the art industry, Holly believes that the incorporation of fabric in mixed media and textile art, in general, will revolutionise the industry and create more opportunities for fibre artists to popularise their medium, cultures and stories.

As much as she promotes feminism through her works, she also communicates a piece of Eastern philosophy and culture interwoven with strong themes. As Holly looks toward the future, she aims to explore the diversity within femininity as it carries different meanings for different people and hopes to integrate her background as a woman and an artist into it. The artist’s works are revolutionary and bold as they address unspoken issues within society and confront them; acting as the sole voice for many women across demographics and cultures, it drives change by initiating important conversations. Just as artists have contributed to feminist movements bringing about substantial change in society, Holly contributes to the ongoing movement as an artist in the hope that we will see a better world for women someday.

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