Chilean artist Juana Gómez’s embroidered photographic canvases combine the spheres of scientific exploration with ancestral tradition. Weaving complex scientific and mythological patterns onto images of her own and her daughters’ bodies, Gómez’s work is interested in placing mankind within a broader context of interconnectivity. Rather than seeing us as individuals, detached from one another and the world around us, Gómez positions us as part of an ancient chain that goes back to the origin of life - a combination of patterns, molecules and small organisms. She believes that these representations are integral to human perception and our corresponding understanding of the world: ‘We are so addicted to patterns that we let them sneak into almost everything we do. Moreover, these patterns are the key to predicting many aspects of our behaviour, even the darkest parts of our nature.’
Gómez originally drew inspiration from the concept of the distaff, interpreting its meaning which describes both the matrilineal branch of the family tree, as well as its usage in a domestic context to name a tool for manually spinning fleece. Both meanings are relevant to Gómez’s work, as she utilises weaving and embroidery in her exploration of genealogy, mythology and biology within her own female lineage. An art form customarily inherited through the matriarchal line, spinning or weaving, has passed from mother to daughter to constitute an ancient but living tradition of female craftsmanship.
In past works, Gómez has overstitched her photographs with labyrinths of nervous systems, silver threaded organs, delicately ornamental bacteria, and diverse symbols drawn from traditional Latin American textiles. She is always drawing our attention to the unseen elements that unite us inter-generationally, within families and wider civilisation, as part of our common heritage. Gómez positions each of us as part of an ancient chain that goes back to the origins of life; a combination of patterns, molecules and small organisms.
Gómez’s work reflects her enduring interest in folklore and symbolism, especially when this inherited iconography can be bought to bear upon her own vision of feminism and spirituality. She continues to return to the natural world as a source of inspiration, whether using Chilean forests as the dramatic backdrop to figurative compositions or in her repeated references to crows, with their associations of death and foresight. These cultural threads are literally interwoven in her embroidery, which unifies her influences within a coherent visual language of dexterous ingenuity.
Gómez’s most recent work ‘Sacrifice’ may be seen as adopting a more experimental approach, as she warms to her enduring themes. Whilst the practise of embroidery and its cultural significance has always been at the fore of her art, Gómez’s documentation of the fabrication process and her creation of site-specific installations extends her work to encompass both the process by which her works spring to life, but by also extending the breadth of her photography into three dimensions. Recognising the pertinence of these aspects to our knowledge of biology and anthropology, she is constantly refining and reimagining how we think of ourselves, armed with the twin disciplines of photography and embroidery.