by Cat Acree
Memphis artist Meghan Vaziri is reluctant to call her work “embroidery” for the exact reasons you would expect, but there’s no way your sweet grandma could conjure these subtly aggressive, frightening scenes out of tulle and delicate thread. For this reason, Vaziri refers to her art, which often explores women’s roles within the family and larger society, as “works on tulle.” But you can call it what you want.
Quick to laugh and nobody’s fool, Vaziri considers it important that she’s using so-called “women’s work” to tell women’s stories, but this is far from the purpose of her artwork. “The purpose of art is to create a sense of aesthetic bliss,” Vaziri says, paraphrasing Nabokov, “which is the sense that you’re connected somewhere, somehow to other states of being, where kindness . . . beauty, truth is the norm. [I’m trying] to connect the viewer to another state of being for a second, for a moment.”
At the heart of her work is the act itself and not its apparent message, but before she can connect with an audience, first comes the ritual. To begin each piece, she runs white cotton thread through the tulle, pulling it straight and taut by following the weft of the fabric. “As you’re doing it, it’s sort of a meditative process, because it takes so very long, but you know each line is going to be straight. For some reason that keeps me going.”
This process reminds her of another of her favorite writers, Camus, and a scene from The Plague, in which an invalid sits in a bed all day, every day, counting beans. “Camus said this was a very ‘saintly’ thing to do,” Vaziri says, who initially didn’t understand this scene. It sounds insane, maybe Sisyphean, but not saintly. “But I feel that way when drawing the threads through the fabric over and over again. There’s something about that.”
Vaziri has found that the tautness of these straight lines creates necessary chaos, and by disrupting the order of the fabric and creating irregularity in its landscape, she urges her fabric to occupy a space somewhere between painting and sculpture, between two and three dimensions. “I kind of think of it like a microcosm of the universe, weirdly,” she says. “If these lines weren’t straight and weren’t pulled taut to make them straighter, then there wouldn’t be any chaos.”
Once the foundation of cotton threads is complete, Vaziri is free to experiment with color, threads, and fabric, and imagery appears slowly through circular, fluid stitching. Wool thread offers transparent softness; combined wool and silk provides brighter, more solid dimension.
Perhaps her most striking piece is Susanna and the Elders, inspired by a tale from the Biblical Apocrypha. It’s the story of a Jewish woman who goes to her husband’s orchard to bathe, but two of the elders in the community sneak in to watch her and promptly fall in love. “Well, not in love, in lust!” Vaziri says. She explains that this scene has long been popular among painters, as it allowed them to show a naked woman. But when Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the few female Renaissance painters, depicted the scene, she subverted the expected message by depicting the woman’s revulsion. The naked woman had always been beautiful and innocent, never knowing that she’s the object of lust, but in this painting, she knows what’s happening, and it’s gross.
Vaziri has been experimenting with her tulle work for the last ten years. Over the last year, however, she has returned to portraiture. She seems to love both mediums equally and enjoys how they influence one another: “The tulle work is wonderful, but it goes so slowly that you’re more focused on the materials than you are on the visuals in your world,” she explains. Painting, with its more immediate gratification, prompts her to focus on the world around her and nuances of recreating it, such as mixing colors and capturing a person’s personality in a single portrait.
As you might expect, Vaziri’s tulle work is best viewed in person, but it will take a trip to Memphis to do so.
For more about Meghan Vaziri visit www.meghanvaziri.com.