The Power of Soft Sculpture: Jann Haworth represents the overlooked women of the art world in the 1960s.

Raised surrounded by the film industry in Hollywood, Jann Haworth moved to London during the Swinging Sixties and embodied a feminist stance. Now, Haworth represents the overlooked women in the art world. She is most famous for her contribution to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover, but was hugely overlooked with her husband Peter Blake getting the majority of the credit. 

Her work is exhibited at the Pallant House Gallery alongside Jessica Dismorr, another feminist advocate from around the 1910’s.

The Pallant House Gallery presents many of Haworth’s life-sized soft sculptures, as they observe from a corner of the room or sit in the middle of the floor. The sculpture Old Lady II (1965) features a woman sitting in a rocking chair, hunched over a quilt she is stitching. The further you walk around the sewn lady the more details you discover. Her face is made up of a mix match of colours and material, with black eyes hiding behind gold rimmed glasses. Haworth has taken the chore of sewing that is traditionally associated with women and used it as a weapon, her male counterparts typically having little knowledge of sewing and knitting. Consequently, Haworth is seen to use this typical female trade to a radical advantage as she adopts this method in order to project ‘the language of women’ in 1960’s art. 

I knew the language of cloth inside out. I knew how to turn two-dimensional flat fabric into any shape that I needed to create a 3-D object/figure/concept. I knew this opened the door to a vast territory of expression.”

The room contains other textile figures drawn from themes of childhood and myth as she continues to perceive these sculptures using the feminine material. A good example of this is Rodeo Cowboy (1964), a typically macho and masculine character in rodeo film, has been created and reinvented through sewing and stuffing. What was once an unfriendly and aggressive personality is now soft and feminine as he stands pensive, deep in thought. Here, Haworth has used a traditional female stereotype to embody this mannish character and dominate it, using the medium to express what men could never comprehend.

Snake Woman (1969), or the modern-day Medusa, watches over the contrasting elderly lady and is instead standing tall and proud. A myth of celebrated beauty and fear, she is placed alongside The Sorceress (1971) who stands intimidatingly and rules the room. They are both visually bright and controlling, with green neon snakeskin and deep orange and yellow fabrics. These female legends contrast with the off-white monochrome Cowboy in the other room as she uses the colour, pattern and material as a way of observing powerful female characters. What was once a stereotypical chore, has become a celebration of female empowerment as sewing and textiles suggests an alternative world that is contrasting to the work of her male peers.

Jann Haworth: Lunch with James

In the same room, Haworth’s childhood memory is seen to brightly project onto her wall art through polka dot patterns and mixed media. With an upbringing based around magical Hollywood sets, Haworth incorporates Mickey and Minnie Mouse into her work by using abstract forms of multi-media. Although the work is humorous and fun, it doesn’t hide from serious intent. With captions that twist the perspective of the piece for example, “Who is afraid of uncle Walt?” and “Minnie after her divorce and before she knew she was pregnant”. These captions are highly significant as the playful and magical nature of Mickey and Minnie Mouse disappear, leaving the characters faced with the harsh realities and scenarios common in contemporary society.

Jann Haworth’s exhibition is delightfully bombarding to walk through as the viewer is saturated with female presence. The gallery reveals her incredible use of cloth and range of mixed media, which cleverly questions typical art conventions. An interestingly magical but truthful experience. Works are displayed at the Pallant House Gallery from the 2nd of November to the 23rd of February.

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