We Catch Up With The Fibre Artist As He Prepares for the Sharjah Architectural Triennial
Words by Laura Cherrie Beaney in The Lifestyle · Jul 31st, 2023
Adrian Pepe, a fiber artist from Honduras, is eagerly preparing for his upcoming presentation at the Sharjah Architectural Triennial. The occasion marks the culmination of more than half a decade of dedication to the wool of the fat-tailed Awassi sheep. Through an in-depth exploration of the sheep's wool, Adrian uncovers its hidden stories and long-standing symbolic value. His large-scale textile works and tapestries weave an artistic narrative sparking questions relating to culture, tradition, and a relationship between man, animal, and land. It’s work that the artist suggests summons a return to primalism.
Now, we step into Adrian’s studio to uncover his practice and preoccupations.
Adrian: I grew up in Mesoamerica between Costa Rica and Honduras. The region is said to be a crossroads; the place where local and foreign cultures - including pre-Columbian societies, European settlers, Arab diaspora as well as African and Asian migrants - both clashed and integrated in the formation of the ‘New World’.
With this amalgamation of people and ideas, flourished a new kind of regional identity, one which constantly sought to understand its origins by sieving through the few cultural and historical remnants that remained. Adrian: This attitude has informed my artistic practice. A significant portion of my methodology stems from retracing processes and material histories that relate to textiles.
Upon leaving Mesoamerica I went on to study in the United States and later spent time in Africa and Europe before eventually making Lebanon my home.
Adrian: As a fibre artist, my works are textile-based. Through the process of directly colliding with the sentient provider of the raw material, be it plant or animal, I seek to relate to the wider ecosystems I visit or inhabit. My work is an ongoing investigation into process and material, interwoven with concepts of nature and culture. I create artistic objects as tools to enable an open discourse on materiality, our morphing cultural landscape, and contemporary condition.
Some of my major influences as an artist include Joseph Beuys and Giuseppe Penone; both figures that harnessed unconventional materials in a performative manner, oftentimes relating their work to subjects in nature. I also appreciate the fearlessness with which Franz West manipulates materials. He’s known for saying: “It doesn't matter what the art looks like but how it's used.”
For my first exhibition back in 2013, I worked with human hair. Hair serves as a synecdoche for understanding the meaning of self and other, subject and object. For this art installation, I explored the functionality and representation of hair by employing collected clippings to create a bed set. I presented laminated human hair samples with corresponding labels against the gallery wall suggesting formal cues of materiality as linked to phenotypical identity. The show was Duchampian in its staging of a functional reality but with a confounding surrealist undertone. I believe that we as humans are all connected by the ephemerality of experience, by our ability to grow and the common thread of hair that we, as humans, share.
The last five years have seen my focus fall upon the wool of the fat-tailed Awassi, an ancient breed of sheep found in Western Asia. The Awassi is considered to be the most widespread non-European sheep and is found across the globe. Adrian: “Entangled Matters” is a body of work that departs from this ancient animal fibre. This particular breed of sheep is a central figure in the human narrative. It traditionally appears within the contexts of pastoral imagery, regional materials and craft cultures, and the ritualistic practices of the Abrahamic religions. Through the process of spinning, hand-guided embroidery, and felting, the wool is transformed into material artefacts laden with perspiration, emotions, mythologies, and symbolism. These hybridised skins in the form of my large-scale tapestries summon themes of trans-corporeality, post-naturalism, and biocentrism.
Through the experience of my work, I’d like the audience to reconnect to a sense of primalism, return to their origins, and revisit their ancestral knowledge base in order to reconnect to processes in nature.
I’m currently working on a special commission for the Sharjah Architectural Triennial that will open towards the end of 2023. For this project, I’m investigating the various uses of the Awassi sheep’s biomass both historically and in the present day. The installation will invite conversations around the value and symbolism of materials in art and culture, as well as the complex histories and cultural significance of animals and their by-products in human society. The artwork represents a blend of tradition, innovation, and critical inquiry and will unpack the intimate and intricate relationship that humans and sheep share.
All images courtesy Adrian Pepe