Cynthia Brannvall

Cynthia A Brannvall

Studio U5A

Medium: Textile & Interdisciplinary

My art practice is an exploration of identity, belonging, history, and meaning in materials. The movement of people, resources, and ideas through voluntary and forced migrations are themes that find expression in my work. I use abstraction to create openness for a larger shared history with all of its contradictions and multiple perspectives. I explore the capacity of materials and aesthetics to create interstitial spaces that bind and form common grounds for humanity. I am interested in creating visual language that is engaged individual and collective identities and the history, culture, economies and geographies that they are tethered to. I am process oriented and engage with patterns and materials as conceptual signifiers. I like to use materials that have a historical fingerprint to make an unexpected contemporary statement. Textiles have been in my hands for as long as I can remember, and they are potent signifiers of labor, trade, industry, slavery, luxury, baptisms, weddings, funerals, gender, and history. My engagement with textiles is the interstitial space between craft and fine art, the past and the present, painting and sculpture, landscape and portrait, abstraction and representation, history and the present. In particular, I explore the contradictions of whiteness in textiles as something pure, stained, fragmented, constructed, degraded, broken and enduring. My textile artworks are composed from stained and heavily worn vintage lace, seams, trim, ruffles and bindings structured in a grid form. I imagine the abstract patterns in the material as protein folds of DNA that cross bodies of water and continents and cross the bodies of ancestors. I intend the textile patterns to evoke text, music, history, and the presence and work of women. My choice in materials and composition strives for a conceptual tension between that which is whole and broken, precious and fragmented.

Édouard Glissant’s nuanced engagement with rhizomatic theory in Poetics of Relation underpins my art practice. The concept that there is only difference and identity formation is not fixed but rather ever in a state of becoming is particularly compelling to me. He says, “One of the full-senses of modernity is provided by the action of human cultures identifying one another for their mutual transformation.” His work informs my art practice and it also guides my research and pedagogical engagement with the history of art. I am drawn to the complex and entangled histories and constructs of human experience. For me, to be fluent in these margins and interstitial spaces, is to see with clarity, empathy and honesty.

Cynthia Brannvall is an art historian and a multi-media artist who teaches art history as a full time faculty member of Foothill Community College. She is a California native of African American and Swedish descent. Cynthia has undergraduate degrees in Art Practice and Art History from UC Berkeley where she was a Phi Beta Kappa and a Ronald E. McNair scholar and was awarded the Departmental Citation for her research in Art History. She has an MA in Art History from San Francisco State University with an emphasis on Modern and Contemporary art. An advocate and ally for social justice and equity, Cynthia’s artwork explores identity formation envisioned in an imagined deep time terrain of memory, reclamation, and the geographies of forced and voluntary migrations of body and spirit. Her artwork has selected for juried group exhibitions in the San Francisco Bay Area, San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles, New Orleans and Washington DC. Cynthia was selected for the 2022-2023 Emerging Artist’s Program at the Museum of African Diaspora in San Francisco where she had her first solo exhibition March 29-June 12, 2022. Cynthia has published short essays for exhibition catalogs, has juried The Wild Side exhibition at Arc gallery in San Francisco and is currently making new work during a 5 month studio residency award at Cubberley Art Studios Program in Palo Alto California.

Artist Website

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Recent Works

Brannvall, Roar

Roar, 1950's pink dress and resin, 2022, 4' in diameter x 6" protrusion in the center

Roar is part of an emerging series I am calling Surreal Textiles in response to the reversal of Roe v Wade. Drawing from Surrealist strategies of strange juxtapositions, disorientation, the unexpected, and the uncanny as a way to depict psychological tensions and unconscious motivations and desires. 

 

Brannvall, Great Again

Great Again, 1950's dickey shirt, beeswax, damar and resin, 2022

Great Again is part of an emerging series I am calling "Surreal Textiles." Drawing from Surrealist strategies of strange juxtapositions, disorientation, the unexpected, and the uncanny as a way to depict psychological tensions and unconscious motivations and desires. The dickey garment or false shirt as a medium allows me to engage with contemporary semiotics of racism. A linguistic term, semiotics is broadly the study of signs and symbols and their use and interpretation.  Great Again is a dickey splayed open making the false shirt or false front shield like. The work is titled pointedly pairing altruistic terms that obfuscate or mask intentions, policies and behaviors that target and harm people of color. 

 

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, 19th Century blouse, beeswax, damar, resin approximately 17 x 20 x 14, 2020-2022

Harper was a poet and author and lecturer who worked as an influential abolitionist and black suffragist.

 

Nestled in Identities

Nestled in Identities, photograph of the artist, historical, contemporary, and satellite maps of America, Africa, and Sweden printed on rice paper and beeswax on wood panel, 16 x 20 ", 2019

Identity Mapping Series are intergenerational portraits of Cynthia Brannvall’s family members collaged with historical, contemporary, and satellite maps from the countries and continents of her heritage. The range of maps include “outdated” versions with countries that no longer exist or illustrate first nation territories in what would become the United States of America. It is a visual exploration of the artists interest in the instability of place in regard to notions of nativism and identity. The first nation peoples offer an understanding of identity as connected to seven generations before and seven generations forward. Brannvall considers this in terms of the geography and nationalism of her ancestry and concludes that it is more accurate to understand identity formation and the concept of belonging as an unstable journey. For the artist, intergenerational identity and belonging are a path that meanders through time and place with changing borders, political systems, names, and dates that are determined by exploration, conquest, colonialism, opportunity, lust, and love.

 

Daughters

Daughters, photograph of the artists daughter, historical, contemporary, and satellite maps of America, California, Africa, and Sweden printed on rice paper and beeswax on wood panel, 16 x 20 ", 2019

(see "Identity Mapping Series" description above)

 

The Threads That Bind A Divided Nation

The Threads That Bind  A Divided Nation, vintage and antique textiles painted on stretched crinoline, white thread in long stitches. 36 x 58", 2020

(Statement for Threads That Bind A Divided Nation)The materials that create form in an artwork presents an added layer of meaning. I was raised primarily by my grandmother who was born in 1908, and was an extraordinary seamstress.  Textiles have been in my hands for as long as I can remember and they are potent signifiers:  labor, trade, industry, slavery, luxury, baptisms, weddings, funerals, gender, and history.  My engagement with textiles is between craft and fine art, the past and the present, painting and sculpture, landscape and portrait, history and the present. In particular, I explore the contradictions of whiteness in textiles as something pure, stained, fragmented, constructed, degraded, broken and enduring.