In Care Work, a new solo show at Redux Contemporary Art Center, artist Camela Guevara takes everyday household items — bits of thread, elastic bands, fabrics, sparkling pieces of scrubbing sponges — and creates spiraling, colorful patterns across her canvases. She imbues the things we see every day with a new artistic identity, at least partially to make the viewer see them, and the people who use them, in a different way.
Using the premise of sewing as both a literal and metaphorical foundation, Guevara chose the name Care Work very deliberately to bring attention to those who tend to us and our loved ones every day.
“I was thinking about sewing in a way that relates to the home or a caregiver,” she says. “Like a grandma or a mom. But I guess it also relates to how we value clothing. It’s really easy to buy an inexpensive shirt and just throw it away because we don’t really think about the kind of work that went into it. At other people’s expense, we are able to buy really inexpensive clothing. So I compared sewing in the home, like your mom hemming your pants or making a Halloween costume, with that offshore creation of a fashion garment. Either way, that work is undervalued.”
The idea that Guevara means to embed in the array of colorful fabrics and other simple, inexpensive items is that we should be a little more aware of the labor that they’re often used for, and of the people who do that labor.
“‘Care Work’ is a term that refers to taking care of family members or friends who can’t take care of themselves,” she says, “and a lot of times, that work falls on women. And that’s very taxing. A lot of times when you don’t have as much of a societal safety net, there aren’t any other options.”
Guevara’s creations as a fabric artist take a subtle, but insightful approach, never over-cluttering the canvas with too much color or too many pieces. It’s an intuitive approach crafted by a person who’s taken refuge in art all of her life.
“We moved around a lot when I was a kid because my Dad was in the Air Force,” she says. “Moving to North Charleston was a big culture shock for me, and art has always been where I felt the most confident. I was kind of an awkward kid and it’s where I just felt the most like myself. I always knew I could do it and I knew it was there for me, and I felt confident in my skills to realize a finished piece.”
Guevara, who received a BA in Studio Art with a concentration in sculpture, printmaking, and painting from the College of Charleston in 2010 and attended the Penland School of Crafts for weaving in 2016, was drawn to fiber art for several reasons.
“Fiber can mean quilting, weaving, embroidery . . . it’s just such a huge field,” she says. “And I’ve always been drawn to sewing. I’ve thought spatially about making things in three dimensions, and I’ve always been particular in my clothing and how it fits. I worked at an alteration shop after I graduated and started doing my own quilting and weaving.”
Guevara says she finds a lot of inspiration in taking the crafts she’s learned and making them her own.
“With fiber art, I love taking traditional sewing techniques and seeing how I can manipulate them in ways that are interesting to me,” she says. “Sometimes I don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but a lot of times I respond to colors and commune with the work and let that guide me.”
And that approach goes for the supplies she uses, as well. Guevara often shapes the canvases she works on, and she looks for inexpensive household items to work with.
“Canvases are traditionally just backdrops for the artwork,” she says. “They’re rigid; they’re stuck in usually rectangular shapes. I wanted softer edges. The cool thing about sewing and making my own canvases is that I have control of how they look, and I can make things I’ve never seen before.”
And she’s found some interesting uses for shaker lids, the kind used for breading foods, that she finds at restaurant supply stores.
“They already have holes in them,” she says, “and I was thinking about playing with the different patterns that I could create through these different holes.”
That use of non-traditional supplies feeds into her goal to make people see art in places they might not have thought of before.
“The material is part of it,” she says. “I hope people will see these items differently. Everyday objects can be seen as art, and I hope it changes what people see as art or what can be included in art.”