This exhibition has emerged out of conversations with Sarah Crowner that started two years ago when I first showed her the Tutsi basketry from Rwanda and Burundi that my father, Clive Loveless, and his colleague, Andres Moraga, have championed for the last 25 years. In these discussions, we realized the complexity of presenting objects made by anonymous artists together with an established contemporary artist; presenting traditional artefacts in combination with work made by a formally trained artist.
Crowner’s forays into the ambiguous cross-over of form and function, her practice of re-articulation of artist and craft-people’s work from other periods and geographic contexts, and not least her interest in hard-edged abstraction, project a strong affinity to these intricately woven, geometrically patterned baskets.
In a process of reconstructing and reassembling, Crowner has mined modern art history and other artist’s experiments in painting, sculpture, craft, textiles and performance. She has explored modes of display with her ceramic tile platforms, theatre backdrops and scenography, and blurred the lines between applied arts and fine art. Here Crowner presents a new suite of sliced and sewn canvases in different hues of blue and has designed a viewing bench and group of seats distributed within the space.
In an adjoining room a constellation of Tutsi baskets are displayed on individual shelves against a painted wall in a presentation conceived by Crowner. The small-scale coiled and woven baskets are adorned with reverberating zigzag and triangular patterns and constitute a variety of sculptural volumes and forms evoking the traditional architecture from the region.
In the African Great Lake region, basketry was an elemental and all-purpose technology – portable, lightweight and adaptable. Among the Tutsi and Hutu peoples of Rwanda and Burundi, it became a prestige art that was emblematic of status and social connection. Made by noble women, these refined objects are concentrated expressions of artistry and skill. Intended for display and presentation, they were used to stow personal finery and valuables, but served primarily as gifts or tribute for high-ranking chiefs and ceremonial exchanges between families.