Bold and Generous Stitches: The Embroideries of Brita Weglin

Critical Text: A Swedish textile artist brings viewers on a journey through a phantasmagorical world.

Creating Representation Possible Futures
A textile piece shows two embroidered figures with hats in a landscape at the edge of the sea painted or dyed onto the fabric. The figure at right is holding a large fish with a human face and goggles in her arms.

Brita Weglin, undauntedly vital, caustic, unforcedly prolific with irrepressible energy, operates a broad and multilateral repertoire in her art. Techniques and media count in positively plural numbers: Watercolour, graphic prints, embroidery, sculpture, embroidery, jewellery and more. Weglin is equally adept with the stitch of embroidery as with the grammar of form in sculpture, equally ingenious when it comes to the line play in graphic works as with the luminous palette of enamel. As in all that she grapples with. 

A textile piece shows two embroidered figures with hats in a landscape at the edge of the sea painted or dyed onto the fabric. The figure at right is holding a large fish with a human face and goggles in her arms.
Brita Weglin, What To Do With a Sea Man? (2014).

Also, motifs and content in Brita Weglin’s oeuvre are bountiful, varied and multifaceted. Themes and topics are sourced from a lavish spring of experiences, interests and commitments: Upbringing, background and one’s own life stories, mythology and cultural history, opera, film and the visual arts, personalities from religion and popular culture, often with a fastidious focus and affable compassion regarding female protagonists from both myths, history and the vernacular. Yet this ample flow of works and kaleidoscopic output brandish common traits, recurring accents and unifying characteristics. While the figurative and narrative art of Weglin is not primarily naturalist, it has nonetheless a robust and consistent ground in an expressionist platform, with inflections and tonalities that are both burlesque and discreet, lively and harsh, brutal and tender, elegant and garish. Indeed, these adjectives point to a centre and a hub in the art of Weglin. That it is in these combinations or blends one finds a distinctiveness and distinguishing features and sentiments. And, simultaneously, that the absolute and uncompromising heart of the artistic practice of Brita Weglin is the human figure. At the core of her art is the human being, the human face and countenance, the human body and figure, individual or type or mythical character, in short, the human condition on this wounded planet; visualized and rendered in portraits, scenes, tableaus, situations, factual or allegorical, historical or timeless, ordinary or phantasmagorical.

A textile piece shows an embroidered figure with inclusions of other fabrics, fur, lace, and hair. One hand emerges from the figure’s left shoulder and spikes or branches protrude from her head.
Brita Weglin, The Siren of the Woods, an Endangered Species (2018).

The embroideries of Brita Weglin—the subject of the publication in which this essay first appeared—are both a summation and elaboration of her remarkable and commanding art. The roll call is extraordinary. Here is a—precisely—colourful procession of female characters. Mythical figures such as the Celtic–Roman goddess Sulis Minerva, an irresistible Medusa—a Greek gorgon whose gaze you still today should not meet—sirens, satyrs, cultural personalities such as the forgotten silent movie stars Theda Bara and Alla Nazimova and the art collector Wilhelmina von Hallwyl on an Egyptian journey, spider women, a brash female vampire, a self-confident but nonetheless endangered forest fairy, sea women and mermaids. And not least grandmother Frida and grandma’s mother Ida and more with autobiographical connections. Add opera figures such as Turandot, Madame Butterfly and Papageno. Or significant characters out of religious history such as Tekla Haymanot, splendidly visualised performing one of his legendary flights to Jerusalem. Surveyors and sailors. Mummies and one and another dog. In addition, Weglin expands her use of text, both through long titles and in embroideries that are entirely textual containing sentences, proverbs or maxims: “The soul lives in another world that no one owns.” Finally, Weglin’s embroideries involve as well a crucial—and inevitable—dialogue between artists, as she produces a series of works titled Homage á Bosch. Hieronymus Bosch is Weglin’s art-historical ally. Spicy, full-blooded, burlesque, at times grotesque, the nearness of farce and tragedy, the solitude and desolation of humans. And the exposed and mutating human body—deformed, disjointed, transformed to animal figures. Thus, the embroideries of Weglin in this series consist of bodies in different stages of metamorphosis, bastards of animals and humans.

An embroidery into a patchwork textile shows a figure with a long, bat-like wing for a tail at the left side, body composed of red embroidered knots stretching across the centre, a pale arm ending in a claw, and a distressed face, with a foot embroidered in red near the bottom right edge of the composition.
Brita Weglin, Vampyrkvinna/Vampire woman (2017).

This vibrant panorama of embroideries is certainly unconditionally Weglinian. But there is also something extra that appears and is reinforced in Weglin’s extended engagement with the properties and expressions of embroidery. The friction between the traditionally unobtrusive and somewhat minimal language of embroidery and the characteristic expressivity of Weglin sharpens, amends and fine-tunes both method and form. Weglin works here with a kind of buoyant precision and a playful urgency where each figure, character or tableau is depicted with weight and economy, wit and sagacity. She manages agreeably impure embroideries; lively and bold images where the stitches play upon a dyed and manipulated canvas in a subtle dialogue between figure and ground. And where the embroidered image on occasion is accompanied by other materials such as hair or pieces of fur, materials and details which both complete the figure and which are symbolically significant. Adjust your frequency of reception for the eye, the senses and the heart, and enjoy the journey through the art of Brita Weglin.


Credit: This text was originally published in Brita Weglin: Broderi gör dig fri (Embroidery Makes the Mind Free) (Almlöfs Förlag, 2019). COURTESY JAN-ERIK LUNDSTRÖM. 

This story is part of the Sweden Spotlight. View more content from the Spotlight here.