We’ve read (and written) about the discouraging and frankly outrageous stats around women in the art world, but what we don’t hear as often is about the amazing women who are changing that narrative. Victoria Manganiello is one of them. We caught up with Victoria this week to hear more about her art, her feminism, and how the two intersect.
Introduce yourself! Tell us who you are and what you do.
I am an artist and for me this also includes being an educator, producer, consultant and curator. I spin, dye, and weave all of my canvases, building an abstracted composition while I construct the physical components of the painting or installation. Working with processes that would be traditionally labeled “women’s work” connects me to that history of feminine empowerment as well as to its evolving future. I work very closely with the pure materials that constitute the physical work. The fact that every pigment and fiber passes through my fingers, transformed by my hand and guided by my intuitions parallels my personal transformations as a human over the course of my life. The process, which is extremely time-consuming and ordered, and the abstraction, which often closely mimics geographical scapes and timelines, asks a viewer to consider the timeline and spacescape that they occupy, as well as those they have or will inhabit.
In addition to producing my own artwork, I facilitate the creation of and dialogue surrounding others’ artworks by being an educator. I am a teaching artist and I was the founding director of an education-based gallery. Presently, I run an artist critique group called Scanner Club that travels to a new artist’s studio each month for an in-depth and intimate dialogue. In addition, I work as a freelance textile designer and fabricator with design firms and individual artists seeking to work with this medium.
How do you define feminism and how does that play a part in what you do?
If I were to give you a straight up definition, I would say that Feminism is a movement seeking equality (as opposed to sovereignty) for all people no matter their gender, race or class. As a feminist, I am fighting for a world in which we do not have to assimilate, one in which we can be comfortable being who we are without rigid labels. We can self define who we are using all the terms to which we adhere because they are uplifting—without diminishing those who choose to define themselves otherwise. There is enough empowerment to go around and we don’t need another person to lose in order to be a winner.
I am enchanted by the process of weaving because of the juxtaposition between such a precise and particular tool, a loom, and the incredibly organic and flexible material that it creates, cloth. Further, I am inspired by our shared experience of this material. Clothing and cloth is the only thing on the planet with which every human interacts, intimately, every single day. And even further, the woven structure, one that relies on masses of individual threads to maintain stability—where the loss of the integrity of a single one is the first step towards the destruction of the whole—is an incredible metaphor for the successes and failures of the cultures of the human race.
Spinning, dying, and weaving, have been traditionally “women’s work” in this country and in many others and simultaneously, defined as craft; those working with the medium have been excluded from the conversations and institutions of art. I hope that my work can contribute to the future of this beautiful medium and intricate process and, ultimately, insuring it can be taken seriously while maintaining its connection to a rich history.
What’s the most challenging part of what you do? The most rewarding?
When one independent artist or maker finds success, it is good for all of us. So I find reward in seeing my peers succeed and the most inspiring experiences I’ve had in my career have been connected to communities that are designed to uplift each other. For example, I completed a 9-month residency at the Textile Arts Center last year and our cohort of eight incredibly talented and devoted artists and designers have become one of the most important support networks in my life. We are able to understand and challenge each other, share insights and connections and be a safe space. This community makes my work as an individual stronger- it places me in a context and adds meaning to my life’s work.
But I suppose what makes this life so rewarding is also a part of the challenge- there is not enough funding or work for all of us. Being an artist is rarely lucrative and you do have to make certain sacrifices to maintain your practice as a maker.
If you had to give one piece of advice to other aspiring women artists, what would it be?
Just because it is an opportunity does not mean you need to take it. It is important not to spread yourself too thin; women are often expected to do everything. I learned this lesson only recently when I realized that I could not contribute myself fully to all of the projects in which I was involved. Do what you do and put your full heart in it.
How can our readers follow and support your work?
I’m on Instagram as @victoriamanganiello and you can sign up for my mailing list on my website – victoriamanganiello.com. On occasion, I conduct performative projects that require viewer participation. In particular, I’ve been working with a Brooklyn Restaurant to pull together a Natural Dye/Table Cloth experiment and will be posting details soon. And if you are interested in getting involved in the critique group, please reach out to me directly! But you can also support the organizations with which I work and other female makers and thinkers – Textile Arts Center, No Home Gallery, Animal Designs, Hart Made, Myfawnwy, La.Kawaii, 505 Textiles, PocoaPoco, tachitachi, Lady Art NYC, Alt_Break, The Short Version, Pen and Brush, Art Girl Army, to name just a few.