Based in Manchester, Anya Paintsil is a Welsh and Ghanaian artist working primarily with textiles. From rug hooking to embroidery, her assemblages evoke tactile tapestry on the one hand, and constitute semi-sculptural interventions on the other. Frequently using weaves, braids and other hair pieces (as well as her own hair), Paintsil laces debates around race and gender into the very fabric of her work. Playful and profound, flippant and forceful, her practice engages the language of fibres — of all kinds — with interrogations of materiality and political personhood.
Anya or Anum
Discombobulation from one angle, and something more like dismemberment from another – Anya Paintsil’s Anya or Anum is exemplary of her instinct for profoundly political statements infused with an intuitive levity. Almost cartoonish in their forms and immediacy, Anya or Anum features faces and bodies refracted as though through a prism – and as with much of Paintsil’s work, the piece originates in autobiography. Growing up mixed-race in North Wales, Paintsil was often ‘confused with anyone who wasn’t white – if they were Asian, black, if they wore glasses, if they were a foot taller than me… it didn’t matter,’ she says, evoking the work’s titular Anum (a South Asian student at Paintsil’s secondary school who left four years before she did). As such, the title’s conjunction ‘or’ balances flippancy with frustration, inferring exclusion rather than expansivity. One or the other? Not both? it seems to ask, only to answer with an eye roll and free-floating body parts in various shades of brown. Identity is atomised and processed with laborious techniques which belie the piece’s surface ease: like Paintsil’s wider oeuvre, Anya or Anum engages the language of fibres with interrogations of materiality and personhood.