Brankica Zilovic is wearing sneakers, black socks, wide white pants and a teal sweater and lounges casually in a chair. Behind her on the wall is an artwork made by her made up of multicoloured threads woven together into patterns.

Brankica Zilovic

In conversation with contemporary artist and professor Brankica Zilovic

Corinne Szteinsznaider (opens in new window) (Michael Culture Association / Museu)
Maud Ntonga (opens in new window) (Michael Culture Association / Museu)

Brankica Zilovic (b.1974) is a visual contemporary artist and teacher who graduated from the Schools of Fine Arts of Paris and Belgrade, developing a body of work in which threads appear in a recurring manner. Embroidery and the world of textiles have gradually become associated with her practices through installations, pictorial configurations, and drawings.

In her creations, Brankica blurs the traditional boundaries established between crafts and contemporary art and carries a message of resilience. As crafting heritage is also a contemporary matter and we decided to have a talk with Brankica to learn more about the world of contemporary textile art.

Brankica Zilovic holds threads that are part of one of her works hanging on the wall

First, could you explain what it means to define yourself as a textile artist, and what it means?

I see myself as a contemporary artist whose main medium is textile. I am talking here about textiles in a broad dimension. By its tangible material dimension, textile is a medium that comes first in my works. I think like a painter whose technical knowledge of textiles is a primordial medium. It all started with a desire of mine to extend my thinking and find a new strategy for my drawings. I progressively started to mix drawings with embroidery and painting with textile before switching to creations made entirely from textiles.

How did you learn to work with textile and what are the techniques you use?

I would say that I am self-taught, I learned to create on my own, guided by a particular necessity. I am not trained as an applied art textile designer per se.

For the techniques, I started with embroidery and then worked with hybrid techniques, using different tools (e.g. sewing machines), and different materials such as paper and beads. I have always liked to navigate between “traditional” textile techniques, such as hand tapestry, and new techniques such as wall installations. I also use concrete and books as stitches in my creations.

Embroidery is now widely deployed in my works (whether it is on canvas, paper, or even concrete) but I also work on other formats such as sculptures. This hybridity in my technique is a way for me to blur the traditional border between crafts and contemporary art in favour of new creative formats.

Threads seem to be a cardinal material in your creations, can you explain why you use them and what is at stake?

The use of threads in my works enables me to tell what I want to tell and to create cartographies. Cartography is at the heart of my work. It allows me to narrate a part of my life, as I come from former Yugoslavia, it voices my experience and represents this trauma which is the motor of my work. Threads allow me to weave synaptic links, repair memories, to maintain the world as it is. Landscapes and cartography help me to depict the world, inside and outside, according to personal geopolitics where the intimate meets the collective.

My thought is also nourished by the thinking of Edouard Glissant and his concept of "creolisation". We must weave our capacity to live together, and textile is a way to express this: by its elasticity, its colour, and its resistance. Threads also allow me to mix the aesthetics of erosion, overflow, and gravity with that of repair. Edouard Glissant speaks of the energy of creation as something in constant motion, and I think that textile contributes to this energy and gives new possibilities.

Although my work evokes erosion and trauma, it tends towards a kind of renewal, towards a safeguard and a repair of the world. The gesture of suturing is a gesture of repair. Each stitch in my works is proof of my existence. Finally, I would say that thread is linked to the body. Working with thread is physical and long, there is a meditative and almost addictive slowness.

Do you feel like you are part of an artistic movement, “textile art” or “craft art”?

I think that the notion of an artistic movement is a little outdated. Today we must think of creation as an asset of several individualized practices with different streams and fluctuations. I would rather think about how textile influenced social and political movements:

In the 2000s there was a real return of the crafts, and there was a phenomenon of devitrification of certainties around mediums. Crafts were on one side and contemporary art on the other. Suddenly everything became possible, and everything could be re-evaluated again.

In the 1980s and 1990s, you could see that textiles could take on an important role in critical space. I recall that the work of Rosemarie Trockel, Ghada Amer, Annette Messager or Louise Bourgeois could, through textiles, animate and mobilize questions about gender, the values of our society, individuals, political issues, female emancipation, etc. The use of textiles also had a political dimension. After the Second World War, women who were knitting socks started to knit slogans, during Pinochet's dictatorship in Chile or even during the AIDS crisis patchwork was used as a way to make demands.

I found it very interesting from a traditional aesthetic point of view, that textile art is know-how that values a French, European, and universal heritage. I would like to mention some textile artists such as Anni Albers, Sheila Hicks, Tracey Emin, as well as Zangewa Billie, Nicholas Hlobo, Pia Camil, Abdoulaye Konate, and El Anstsui.

But it ought to be said that some artists don't exclusively use textiles. They go back and forth with other mediums. The porosity between several mediums also makes it possible not to distinguish or marginalize creators who use textiles and to understand the notion of the contemporary artists as unique and plural.

Moving to your work as a teacher, why would you say that transmission of textile art matters?

I am the coordinator and teacher in the ExTRA (Textile Experimentation and Artistic Research) masters at The College of Art and Design of Angers, France (ESAD-TALM). Part of the art option, the ExTRA master option allows students to specialize and strengthen the language of textiles in its theoretical and plastic dimensions, while at the same time retaining an openness to the other fields of contemporary creation. The approach to textiles in all its forms is thus constantly enriched and is intended to be permeable to other practices, which question and challenge it. The student's course is therefore part of a wide panorama of proposals that will enable them to understand the plastic, economic, ecological, ethical, and political issues at stake, as well as the human and social links, considered from the prism of creation and according to an approach in the textile field that is little explored in France, to invent and reinvent them according to their aspirations and artistic trajectories.

This blog was written as part of the CRAFTED project, which aimed to enrich and promote traditional and contemporary crafts.