Collaborative visual arts festival returns to the Creative Capital for third time


Amid widespread event cancellations, Threads Textiles Festival goes ahead 16–20 March Programme announced for five-day festival.

Wellington’s dedicated visual arts festival, supported by WCC and the Blumhardt Foundation, returns for a third time mid-March – this time exploring the historically undervalued tradition of textile art.

Following the success of Fired Up Festival of Ceramics in 2020 and Face to Face Portrait Festival in 2021, a cohort of the city’s leading dealer and public galleries are collaborating once again to stage Threads Textiles Festival from 16–20 March. 

For five days the capital will be flush with art events, with more than 15 free exhibitions and a roster of workshops, talks and tours at venues spanning Lower Hutt, Petone, Thorndon and the central city.

A programme highlight is the one-day online symposium presented by The Dowse Art Museum which will unravel the seam between textiles and contemporary art.

Offering curated presentations from a range of influential local and international textiles figures, including iconic New Zealand designer Kate Sylvester and Azerbaijani contemporary artist, Faig Ahmed.


From intricate embroidery to 1970s high fashion, psychedelic oriental rugs, Māori weaving, and Niuean barkcloth, Threads demonstrates the diversity of textiles and the innovative ways practitioners are adapting centuries-old traditions into contemporary artworks. 

By spotlighting textiles, Threads hopes to shed new light on the medium and challenge traditional Western art history which has often viewed textiles as “women’s work” – part of the domestic realm, and therefore separate and inferior from high cultures such as painting and sculpture.

The breadth of techniques and styles encompassed in the programme defies narrow categorisation and encourages festival-goers to reconsider conventional notions of textile art.

For the first time, a select number of Wellington boutiques join the festival lineup. Part of an ongoing mission to demystify and increase access to contemporary art, the expanded festival footprint sees art extend beyond the walls of galleries and museums with a series of pop-up exhibitions at boutiques including Caughley, KAUKAU, Minerva, The Service Depot, Twenty Seven Names, and Yu Mei. 

As with the previous festival iterations, Threads is based on a unique collaborative model in which participating galleries and museums host simultaneous textile themed exhibitions and events, working together to create a programme and share audiences.

Compared to established formats for biennales, triennales and art fairs, which necessitate large crowds in a single space, Threads proposes a decentralized, cellular model with events taking place across the city.

The model, which was trialled pre-pandemic in 2020 and expanded upon and formalised in 2021, addresses some of the challenges of producing cultural events in a post-COVID environment by allowing for interactions and meetings on a smaller scale at numerous venues.

This innovative and flexible approach enables Threads to go ahead at the red traffic light setting with some adjustments, such as the symposium moving to an online event.

Operating under public health guidelines, venues will manage numbers to allow for physical distancing and ask that festival-goers RSVP to events where required, wear a mask, sign in, and stay home if they are feeling unwell. The situation will be reviewed if necessary. 

“At a time of continued uncertainty and disruption I am grateful that we are able to go ahead with Threads Textiles Festival. The festival is the result of nearly a year of organisation by artists, galleries and pop-up venues and requires an extraordinary level of collaboration. It is my sincere hope Threads will give Wellingtonians and the culture sector at large something to look forward to and that it will shed a new light on contemporary textile art.” Says Grace Ridley-Smith, festival coordinator.

Highlights:

Nearly every culture around the globe has a unique textiles tradition. Several artists across the programme reimagine these traditions in a contemporary setting. 

  • Faig Ahmed (Azerbaijan), Dilyara Kaipova (Uzbekistan) and Saule Dyussenbina (Kazakhstan) are part of an exhibition at The Dowse which breaks down preconceptions of traditional central asian textiles and the Silk Road. 
  • Cora-Allan Wickliffe utalisses traditional Niuean techniques and materials to present a hiapo (barkcloth painting) at Bartley & Company Art, depicting her grandparents’ migrant journey from Niue to Auckland; at 4x5m, it will be her largest work to date.  
  • Matthew McIntyre-Wilson (Taranaki, Nga Mahanga and Titahi), known for his intricately woven copper, silver and gold taonga such as kete, armbands and hīnaki, is constructing a woven window installation for Bowen Galleries. 
  • Ōtaki Weavers Collective demonstrate the diversity of ancestral Māori weaving knowledge with an exhibition at Toi Māori Gallery. 

Waste from the fashion industry presents a huge global issue. Two artists respond to this challenge by recycling and reusing fashion offcuts. 

  • Kirsty Kilico repurposes leather offcuts from local luxury leather goods brand Yu Mei into wall-mounted upholstered reliefs. 
  • Ruby Joy Eade draws on the quilting’s rich tradition of repurposing material scraps by diving into Caughley’s archive to create contemporary bespoke quilts. 


Highly detailed and skilled hand stitching and embroidery, requiring hours of careful dedication, feature throughout the programme. 

  • Kathryn Tsui presents The Ahmah Bags Project (2018-2021) at Page Galleries, a collaboration with her mother Doris Tsui which, in homage to her Chinese heritage, translates the plaid patterns found on mass-produced Hong Kong shopping bags known as ‘Ahmah’ into wall-mounted art works. In total the project has taken 240 hours and 27,000 cross stitches.
  • Areez Katki explores words commonly used in English that have Persian roots – musk, khaki, algebra and alcohol – in a series of embroidered handkerchiefs showing at McLeavey Gallery. 
  • Erica van Zon renders watery scenes – an acid-toned slushy drink next to a pool in Fiji, a frothy hydro slide, babies’ swimming lessons,pool floats – in tapestries, embroidery, beading, photography, and more for her solo show at Jhana Millers.
  • Katherin Claypole exhibiting at {Suite} explores “pareidolia” – the tendency to perceive a meaningful or familiar image in random or ambiguous visual patterns – in large-scale, hand-stitched thread drawings. The work is the result of processes that are equal parts obsessive and meditative and involve repeating small actions, gestures, or marks until they coalesce into images.

Threads Textiles Festival is made possible through funding from Wellington City Council’s Arts & Culture Fund and support from the Blumhardt Foundation. Threads is part of the Aotearoa New Zealand Festival of the Arts and coincide with the final week of the Festival.

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