For Gio Swaby, Love is Liberation

The textile artist celebrates the multifaceted power of her chosen medium, finding softness and strength in her monumental embroidered portraits.

‘Where I Know You From 6’ by Gio Swaby

Here, we ask an artist to frame the essential details behind one of their latest works.

Bio: Gio Swaby, 31, Toronto.

Title of work: Where I Know You From 6 (2023).

Where to see it: Claire Oliver Gallery, New York, until July 15.

Three words to describe this work: Honest, expansive, captivating.

What was on your mind at the time: I finished this self-portrait on Mother’s Day and I was thinking a lot about my mom through the process. I thought about how she would be so proud of everything I’ve accomplished and how this work continues her legacy as a person that sewed for most of her life (and all of mine). I thought about everything we didn’t get to do but also reflected on all the beautiful gifts she’s left with me. 

Installation view, ‘Where I Know You From 6’ by Gio Swaby. Credit: Claire Oliver Gallery.

An interesting feature that’s not immediately noticeable: The stitching in this work is shown on the reverse side. Instead of displaying the top thread, I have chosen to display the bobbin thread which means I can’t see this side of the stitching as I’m working on the piece.  

How the work reflects your practice as a whole: This piece is part of a process of reconnecting with myself and turning inward. It is a declaration of love for myself encapsulated by the function of my overall practice as an ongoing love letter to Black women. This piece holds many dualities—it is gentle and graceful but also powerful and unapologetic. It is rough and beautiful—it is vast in its understanding of what it means to exist. I am celebrating and exploring many parts of myself through this work. 

One song that captures the work’s essence:Cozy” by Beyoncé.

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