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After a decade of fusing social commentary and the rebellious arts of wheatpaste and yarn bombing on the streets of London, textile artist Victoria Villasana has returned to her native Mexico and modernized the indigenous tradition of hand embroidery in her reworked photo portraiture. The black and white portraits, often cultural icons, though just as likely to be everyday people of her country, the unsung heroes of the land — are enlivened by the vibrant hues of the yarns. “I’ve always admired true visionaries from throughout history, people who realized their inner power to change things and people who have questioned our humanity,” she told Threaded laser-focus beams from the eyes of some, an allusion perhaps to that vision; while teary tendrils stream from the eyes of others.


Embroidery is undervalued as just a ‘woman’s craft,” she’s said. And she flips that notion, recontextualizing it as a tool of women’s empowerment. Though the source material, the photographs, are striking on their own merits, Villasana’s embroidered embellishments, with their “unfinished” strands evoke the potential for change.

Passionate about gender equality and women’s rights, she hopes to encourage people to be the change. She’s said, “With my art, I want to tell a story and inspire women to break with stereotypes.” Eschewing traditional florals for modern geometrics in her color-saturated, hand embroidery, Villasana’s work is sometimes playful and whimsical, other times controversial and political but always bold and arresting.

Iconic personalities of Western culture from a gilt-diademed Queen Elizabeth II (funkier than we’ll ever see her) to multiple images of Frida Kahlo and Nina Simone (with stunning radial eye effects) challenge the status quo. Letterforms by way of lyrics find their way into some works bearing the likenesses of quotables such as David Bowie (“We can be heroes”) and Prince (“All I really need is to know that you believe”). Other works embrace the anonymity of the subject. Last Fall’s Altered States group show at the Saatchi Gallery featured portraits of people from the United Kingdom and Mexico. “Subjects are seen with their eyes closed, holding themselves in the intimate space between outer and inner identity – their presence contrasting with the implied austerity of passport photography,” Villasana says of the exhibition.“The yarn interventions convey a hidden strength derived from openness and exposure, yet a sense of shared vulnerability can be experienced depending on the projected state of mind of the viewer.”

Although she frequently uses vintage photography, she works collaboratively with photographers for current images such as the recent portrait of Black Panther star, Chadwick Boseman shot by Marcus Smith. While she has found favor with her works for interior display, the self-described “Mexican yarn bombastic” hasn’t severed her street art roots and continues to create public installations.