Superbia Spotlights: Manchester textile artist Sarah-Joy Ford

Cutting-edge technology mixed with a love of history and archives...

As part of Superbia’s funding from Arts Council England we are able to continue to support Manchester LGBTQ artists through the Superbia programme.

One of the recipients of our support is textile artist Sarah-Joy Ford. Her work combines cutting edge technology with a love of history and archives. We found out more about Sarah-Joy and her new Superbia-supported project ‘Log Cabin’.

Hello Sarah-Joy, can you tell us about yourself and your art practice?

I am a queer artist; my textile practice broadly explores the complexities and pleasures of queer community, histories and archives.

I work with quilting, digital embroidery, digital print, applique and embellishment techniques to create soft artworks. I am happiest at the intersection between traditional and digital techniques and working on ambitious projects.

My practice is deeply rooted in a femme aesthetic that indulges in rich pink hues, satins, sequins and dense decorative embroideries. Working with textiles situates my practice within histories of gendered marginalisation, and the artists who reclaimed cloth as a powerful language for disrupting discrimination, erasure and hetro-patriarchy. Through the embodied materiality of textiles and an affinity with the domestic, my works slip between public and private moments; protest and parade; desire and loss.

I am currently doing a practice based PHD at Manchester School of Art, where I am lucky enough to have the amazing artist Alice Kettle as a supervisor. She has really supported me, and nurtured my practice as well as being a creative inspiration.

My project examines the quilt as an affective methodology for re-visioning Lesbian Archives. So I spend a lot of time working with institutional archives, as well as personal collections finding materials that I re-assemble in my embroidered quilts. Making these quilts take time, and dedication; they are an act of love.

This loving attention, and the protective qualities of the quilt can be a reparative site, for lesbian archival materials, often forgotten or actively erased.

“I love how much queer culture there is in Manchester, and support for Queer Artists.”

I have been able to work with some really incredible people including the Photographer and previous photo editor for On Our Backs magazine Phyllis Christopher, and Fisch (King Frankie Sinatra) who is part of the Rebel Dykes History Project as well as The Pitt Rivers Museum and Glasgow Women’s Library.

I am really interested in the connections, and intimacies that surround the queer archive in all its forms, and how these entanglements might lead us to new lesbian utopias, and ways of queer world building.

How long have you been in Manchester and what do you love / not love about the city?

I moved to Manchester from Leeds just over two years ago to start my PhD. I make a lot of my work on big machines in the embroidery workshop at Manchester School of Art so I wanted to be close to my beloved machines. But also I wanted to be present in the city, and become part of the creative and queer communities here.

I had previously curated my Cut Cloth: Textiles and Feminism project at The Portico Library, which was an amazing experience. I was inspired by the city’s dark and radical pasts in relation to the textile industries, as well as the suffrage and activist histories.

During the project I worked with The People’s History Museum, The Pankhurst Centre and The Whitworth, all of which are amazing places, and were so supportive, so I was really excited to move here!

I love how much queer culture there is in Manchester, and support for Queer Artists. I have really enjoyed being part of The Queer Artist Talking circle, it is such an important resource for creative queers just to be together

I am also a big fan of The Sexuality Summer School hosted by Manchester University annually. Attending this inspired me and Lois Stone to co-found the Queer Research Network Manchester, that has been another way I have met and connected with the queer community. And I am also part of Proximity Collective, a group of practice based researchers/artists; and we have been in residence at several great Manchester venues including Islington Mill and Paradise Works.

I really love spending time at HOME, and they have been so supportive of my practice as well. I think it is really exciting how they develop new works and talent in house. I also love going to Shit Lesbian Disco, when it comes a round every once in a while…!

I feel that there is so much possibility in Manchester for my artistic practice to grow, and there are so many exciting people, projects and events going on to inspire me. With so much incredible Queer performance art developed in Manchester, I would love to see Queer visual artists flourish here as well.

Can you tell us about the project you will be undertaking for Superbia’s Arts Council England funded programme?

I am working on a collaborative digital project called Log Cabin, with the incredible artist Jordan Taylor. We have been friends for several years now, and worked on bits and pieces collaboratively. We are both crafty queers, working with textiles and print, and interested in the visual cultures of queerness.

This project has allowed us to really explore our creative relationship, the threads running between our practices and the nature of collaboration.

The log cabin is a traditional quilt pattern that plays with light and shadow surrounding a red center, that is associated with hearth, home and heart. This was the inspiration for our digital exhibition; which is a kind of log cabin, a home for our collaboration. The Log Cabin is a tool for artistic development as well as a platform for thinking through what it means to craft in digital space, and make queer kinships when we are apart.

“the digital Log Cabin gives us a space to patchwork our practices together…”

Separated by distance the digital Log Cabin gives us a space to patchwork our practices together, documenting the new connections and intimacies leading to new ideas and collaborations. We were both interested in how to make a ‘digital exhibition’ less static, less of a compromise, consolation prize – into a living and useful space. And also, thinking how the binary thinking of digital/physical could be undone; how our material practices could interplay and interweave in digital space. Rather than the digital as a restriction, it becomes an expansive tool for imagining new works and possibilities.

“Always ask for what you want – be bold…”

The Log Cabin Quilt is ever increasing, and its borders can continue to grow and accumulate, beyond project timelines and production schedules. We will continue to use the Log Cabin after the project; as a functional tool rather than a static legacy.

We both love colour, texture and lots and lots of stuff, so expect maximalist queer aesthetics, all the colours, all of the patterns and some great shoes.

What advice would you give to young LGBTQ folk who are dreaming of becoming an artist?

The world always needs more queer art. It is hard work, but it can happen. It is the obvious things like working hard, challenging yourself to do new things and always turning up to stuff. And getting good at the admin bits: how to write grant bids, make your website, and present your work. But my best advice would probably be to always ask for help, and always ask for what you want – be bold. I have always been surprised by the generosity and support I have received because I am not afraid to ask. Aim high, and center your queerness. We deserve wonderful things.

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Superbia supports LGBTQ+ artists by promoting events through its events page and social media, funding LGBTQ+ events and projects with Superbia Grants, and by curating original events in collaboration with partners, venues, groups, curators, community members, artists and creatives.

Superbia is Manchester Pride’s year-round programme of arts and culture, designed to support, curate, fund and promote LGBTQ+ events throughout Greater Manchester.

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