Gio Swaby’s incredible ‘Fresh Up’ enters final weeks at Museum of Fine Arts

Gio Swaby’s incredible ‘Fresh Up’ enters final weeks at Museum of Fine Arts

Artist Gio Swaby in front of her work at the Museum of Fine Arts

Gio Swaby will be on view at the Museum of Fine Arts through October 9 in St. Petersburg. The coming weeks are the final opportunity to experience the incredible exhibit.

Downtown St. Pete’s Museum of Fine Arts is currently hosting the first solo museum exhibition of multidisciplinary artist Gio Swaby, whose work explores the intersections of Blackness and womanhood. Swaby’s multi-layered portraits are transfixing revelations on the well trodden genre. The artist implements a range of textile-based techniques in her works. 

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Artist Gio Swaby in front of her work at the Museum of Fine Arts
Gio Swaby presents her work at the Museum of Fine Arts | Photo by Ysanne Taylor

Swaby’s work is anchored in a desire to present and celebrate the complex personalities of the sitters. Interested in restorative forms of resistance, she has stated, “My work operates in the context of understanding love as liberation, a healing, and restorative force. These pieces celebrate personal style, strength, beauty, individuality, and imperfections.” 

Gio Swaby debuts stunning portraits at Museum of Fine Arts

This stunning exhibition features works from the artist spanning 2017-2021, and is now its final days at The MFA. Growing up surrounded by the threads and fabrics of her mother, a seamstress, Swaby chooses to work in mediums traditionally associated with domesticity as a means to imbue her works with familiarity, labor, and care.

Swaby’s work will change the way you consider the sewing medium with her life-size series Pretty Pretty. The subjects are meticulously rendered in freehand lines of thread, and shown on the reverse side of the canvas so that the stitching process—its knots and loose threads, so often hidden—is visible. With sheer vulnerability, Swaby embraces and elevates the imperfections of the art form.

Three textile artworks by Gio Swaby at the Museum of Fine Arts
Three works from Gio Swaby's "Pretty Pretty" series | Photo by Ysanne Taylor

Swaby’s art is centered upon the personal connections forged between subject and artist, and conversation is key to achieving these portraits of beauty and power that she deems love letters to Black women. The portraits begin with a photo shoot wherein the subjects are captured in a moment of empowerment and self-awareness. Swaby foregrounds their personal style —seen in the detailed renderings of jewelry, hair, and clothing—creating space for self-definition and unapologetic self-expression.

Life size sewing series on display at the MFA

Swaby earned her BFA in Film, Video and Integrated Media from Emily Carr University of Art + Design, Vancouver, BC and is currently completing an MFA in Interdisciplinary Art, Media and Design at OCAD University, Toronto, ON. She has exhibited internationally, and her work is included in the permanent collections of major public institutions throughout the United States.

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This exhibition is co-organized with the Art Institute of Chicago, where it will open in 2023. A fully illustrated catalogue, published by Rizzoli Electa, accompanies the exhibition and features an interview between Swaby and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Nikole Hannah-Jones, as well as series introductions by the artist and essays by Melinda Watt, the Art Institute of Chicago’s Chair and Christa C. Mayer Thurman Curator of Textiles, and Katherine Pill, Curator of Contemporary Art, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg.

Note on the Gio Swaby Exhibition:

Made possible in part by generous support from The Margaret Acheson Stuart Society, PNC BANK, Gobioff Foundation, Sonia Raymund Foundation Inc., James G. Sweeny, and Garth Family Foundation. Contributing support provided by the City of St. Petersburg and the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Arts and Culture, the Florida Council on Arts and Culture, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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