Marcia Harvey Isaksson is an interior architect and owner of Fiberspace Gallery in Stockholm. The gallery has in just five years become an important showcase of fiber art in Sweden. Textile art has a history of being undervalued and traditionally seen as the domain of women. The exceptional Bauhaus artist Anni Albers was never given the recognition she deserved for her role in textile art at the time or celebrated for the pioneer that she was and the role she played in abstract modernism. There has been a slow change in this direction, and we see more and more young artists today choosing to go into fiber art. It is a medium that is so tactile with a process that can take hundreds of hours by hand, one that cannot be rushed and the skill and patience that is required is not to be downplayed. Thanks to Fiberspace we get to witness the richness of this art form and give it the respect that it deserves. Fiberspace is a gem of a gallery located in creative and vibrant Södermalm, and Marcia Harvey Isaksson is a remarkable woman, for all that she has achieved. From being a chartered accountant, to her study to be an interior architect, to exploring her artistic side with her weaving projects and as an exhibition planner, certainly a trailblazer all the way from Zimbabwe to Sweden.
Portrait by Karin Björkquist.
Your professional background is as a Chartered Certified Accountant, how did you get into Fiber Art and Interior Architecture?
Before embarking on my interior architectural career, I studied a one year diploma in General Arts, Crafts and Design at Nyckelviksskolan in Lidingö. By the end of that year, I became particularly interested in the textile subjects – weaving, screen printing, embroidery, etc and had my mind set on continuing down that path. In the end though, it boiled down to a choice between pursuing a Bachelors Degree at Beckmans College of Design or another one year diploma. I chose the former, merely because it seemed to be the wiser choice for the future. I was re-educating myself from being a Chartered Certified Accountant and could not really afford the luxury of a long soul-searching journey. My end goal was a job in an artistic field and Beckmans seemed to be the quickest route. So I packed my fiber art dream away for a decade.
When and why did you decide to open your own gallery Fiberspace? What is it about weaving and textiles that appeals to you the most?
Towards the end of 2014, I was looking for new office space for my architectural practice. I stumbled upon the space on Katarina Bangata, which was too large for my actual needs, but I saw an opportunity to revive my dream and combine it with my practice. The idea of opening the gallery literally came to me in a flash. I enjoyed visiting the few textile exhibitions offered by the existing institutions at the time, I just wished there were more of them and that they were more frequent. So I decided to take matters into my own hands and create an arena dedicated to showcasing textile art, craft and design all year round.
When I am curating the program for Fiberspace, it’s all about the diversity of textiles. All techniques, expressions and points of view are of interest. Textiles are so integral to our lives as human beings, they do so much more than just protecting our bodies and giving us shelter. They are bearers of culture, histories, innovation, human ingenuity. They are a universal language that binds us together. In my own artistic practice, I am interested in weaving for the same reasons as listed above but also because the art of weaving combines the logical and mathematical with the emotional and tactile. There is a kind of alchemy involved in turning thread into cloth that appeals to both sides of my brain. I am also curious about the loom, it’s construction and what this tells us about different cultures and circumstances.
Do you feel textile art has been undervalued and not given their rightful place on the art scene?
I feel that a lot has happened in the last few years. Textile art seems to be experiencing a renaissance at the moment with fairs, exhibitions and publications dedicated to the niche turning up all over, which is really great. However, I do feel that the work is undervalued, most textile artists I know cannot live off their work. Most of those artists are women and I think as with many things associated with the woman’s domain, there is a tendency to undervalue. Perhaps the problem is the label “Textile Art”, it is after all simply ART which happens to use textile as its main material.
Fiber art is still a very female dominated field, why do you think more men have not explored this art form?
I think this has a lot to do with how art history has been written and by whom it has been written. If all you are shown during your education are “the great” examples of male artists and their work, then that is what you will emulate. There are examples of male artists, who are say painters, using the textile medium at some point in their careers and receiving nothing but praise from the critics; but women artists who have been doing similar work for decades get no recognition what so ever. Again, the curse of textiles is its multi-nature. It may be too associated with domesticity – grandma by her loom weaving rag-rugs; rather than the “fine” art materials such as oil paints, bronze and marble. But it takes a skilful artist to harness the full power of the textile material.
Tell us about your Woven, Weft, Weave project.
Woven, Weft, Weave is a continuation of two earlier projects – Weavers in the West and Dialogue. All three use the loom as a way to connect to the past and present but Woven, Weft, Weave connects to the future too. I am looking into weaving myths and legends from all over the world, searching for common themes. What I have found so far that is of the most interest to me at the moment is that weaving was always associated with female goddesses, for example the Egyptian goddess Nt (or Neith), the Norse goddess Frigg, the Inca goddess Mama Ocllo (or Uqllu), the Japanese goddesses Amaterasu-Omikami and Wakahiru, the Celtic goddess Habetrot and the Greek goddess Athena, to name a few. Many of these goddesses were also responsible for creating the world or universe through weaving, for childbirth, for fertility and for the fates of human beings.
I would like to connect these ideas with my own personal history, the matriarchs in my family and their fates, and how those fates extrapolate into the future fates of my children, my nieces and nephews and the coming generations. I haven’t quite decided on the end result, it’s an ongoing process, but perhaps it will result in an exhibition or performance of sorts. We’ll see.
What were your initial challenges in your career here in Sweden, and what would you say is challenging today?
When I moved to Sweden from Zimbabwe, it was for love but I also had a career as an accountant that I carried on here. The biggest challenge initially was learning a new language in order to be able to live my life completely uninhibited. It took me the better part of two years to feel comfortable speaking Swedish thanks to the support of my workplace and my husband. Otherwise I have to say I entered Swedish society at a highly privileged position and even when I decided to change careers five years later, I ended up at one of the best design schools in Sweden and that opened doors for me in my new career. The only challenges that I have struggled with are the ones I set up for myself, to be honest. I thrive off of setting lofty goals and then working hard to achieve them. Some may want to pigeon hole me into being a woman or an African or both, but it is definitely nothing that affects me as I always choose my own way. I’m extremely grateful that I have attained this position in life so I guess my challenge to myself is to now use that position to inspire and encourage others to choose their own path.
Tell me about your book you put together to celebrate five years of the gallery.
Fiberspace turned five years old during 2020. I really wanted to manifest this in a way that would outlive both me and the space, and so I decided to publish a book featuring some of the amazing artists that have exhibited in the gallery over the years. I also commissioned some brand new essays by four leading figures within textiles today: Jessica Hemmings, Textile Writer & Professor of Craft and Vice-Prefect of Research HDK, Bella Rune, Artist & Professor of Fine Art, Textiles, Konstfack, Åsa Pärson, Master Weaver and Delia Dumitrescu, Professor & Manager of the Smart Textiles Design Lab, Borås Textilhögskolan. I’m proud to have pulled it off on such a tight deadline – it took a year from the first sketch to the final product, but I had an outstanding team to help: Carl Nas Associates who worked on the graphic design and head photographer Karin Björkquist who was in charge of taking new photos and making sure all the images in the book were of good printable quality.
Do you have a favourite exhibition in these past five years at the gallery?
It’s quite impossible for me to choose a favourite, mainly because I have carefully curated every exhibition to show a certain aspect of textiles that I want to hightlight. So I’m just as excited every time an exhibition opens and feel quite privileged to be surrounded by this art every day.
What are you working on now?
Well, I’m constantly working on Fiberspace’s program, website and administration alongside working on my own artistic project Woven, Weft, Weave. But what really pays the bills is my work as an interior architect and exhibition designer, and right now I’m just finishing off a project for ArkDes where Asli Abdulrahman and I were paired together to create a new interior for the ArkDes family room. This will open as soon as the current situation permits. I am also working on the exhibition design for a fashion exhibition at Nordiska Museet about the couture house NK’s Franska, that existed between 1902 and 1966. I absolutely love working on exhibitions! Everything I enjoy comes together in these spaces – storytelling and spatial design.