Oona Brangam-Snell

Visual riddles

<em>A Hole</em>, 2020, Jacquard woven cotton with hand embroidery.
A Hole, 2020, Jacquard woven cotton with hand embroidery.

Textile artist Oona Brangam-Snell’s life-sized, colorful tapestries depict a wide range of images, from heraldry and folk art to Walt Disney’s early illustrations. “I’m interested in the tension created by combining these really familiar symbols in dense scenes so that they read like visual riddles,” she says. “It could be because I come from a decorative arts background, but I’m reconciled to the idea that people relate most to what they’ve seen before.” But trouble is never far away, even in paradise. At first blush, her tapestries may seem innocuous, but viewers soon perceive ominous faces lurking in the shadows. Brangam-Snell seeks to disrupt our subconscious acceptance of what is “normal” by slipping into her works malignant Easter eggs. As a result, the original meaning of the symbols she incorporates becomes obscured and redefined, and we begin to question what we might normally take for granted. “I hope viewers find the humor and pathos in that realization,” she says.

  • Day 71, 2020, Jacquard woven cotton with hand embroidery.

Brangam-Snell begins by sketching a small gouache painting before translating the composition onto an automated loom. Once the weaving process is complete, she hand-embroiders the piece, which “allows me to translate some of the more gestural markings from my paintings into the final cloth,” she says. The resulting work reflects the visual dissonance between automated tapestry’s rigid weft and her hand’s freestyle stitch. “We’re living in a time defined by technological innovation, but technology doesn’t inherently have an aesthetic,” she explains. “It’s defined by whatever we program into it.”

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Noelani Kirschner is a former assistant editor for the Scholar.


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