Fresh Up Dance Party

In celebration of the Bahamian “fresh up” attitude, the MFA presents a tropical-themed party from 7 to 10 pm July 29 featuring DJ, dancing, and Bahamian-influenced cuisine and drinks. Don your best Going Out Clothes as you and your friends will be mingling with featured artist Gio Swaby!   

Looking for inspiration? Summery bright colors, floral prints, enamel jewelry, and straw bags are traditional. The party happens in the museum Conservatory; tickets are $30 for non-members with admission applied to the cost of a new membership. Go to https://mfastpete.org/event/fresh-up-dance-party/    

Fresh Up

Gio Swaby celebrates Black women in MFA exhibit

By Marcia Biggs

GRAND
Kitchen + Bath

Renovations + Designs + Installation

At first glance, the work of Gio Swaby appear to be sketches, outlines perhaps done in pastels or charcoal, all  women portraying soulful attitude and confidence.  But look closer and one realizes these are stitched portraits. Other larger canvases are fabric collages of life-size female silhouettes, faceless but fierce. All of them represent Black women, friends and family, who have touched the life of artist Gio Swaby in the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) exhibit Gio Swaby: Fresh Up.

In her first solo museum exhibit, Swaby, a 31-year-old Bahamian native now living in Toronto, explores the intersections of Blackness and womanhood.  It’s a show that has the MFA organizers a-twitter, considering the national buzz that’s been circulating since the artist’s sold-out gallery show in April 2021 in New York City.

Swaby’s acclaimed works are as hot as the Caribbean sun, being purchased by prestigious museums and private collectors, and a recent article in Harper’s Bazaar has literally dubbed her one of the trendiest Black female fine artists of current time. Six major national museums, including the MFA, Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, have scheduled exhibits.

Swaby calls her work a celebration of Black women, who have over the decades been stereotyped or generalized in art. “Fresh Up is a Bahamian expression,” she told a group of reporters at an exhibit preview. “It’s used to describe someone when you are looking particularly stylish, like ‘hey, you’re looking fresh up today!’ ”

Fresh Up features work from three bodies of work. Swaby’s creative process starts with photo portraits of her subjects — mostly her friends and sisters — and from them she creates outlines and figures on a sewing machine.  Swaby credits her mother, a lifelong seamstress, with inspiring her to work with textiles and fabrics.   

Her series of Love Letters are faceless women all striking poses that show personal empowerment and self-awareness. Why no facial features?  “I hope when Black women and girls see my work, they see parts of themselves reflected with reverence, care and love,” she said.

Her New Growth series is an ode to Black hair. As Swaby tells it, her unique hair is a connection to her ancestry and the art of styling and hair care is a tradition shared by all Black women. These stitched portraits are studies on various styles and techniques that show Black hair as “a beautiful extension of ourselves.”

Her large canvas series Pretty captures women in contemplative moments expressed through a pose, jewelry, hair and clothing.  It’s interesting to note that the threaded line works are stitched on the reverse side of the canvas; it’s hardly noticeable unless one looks closely. Long loose threads emanate from various points on the person, flowing in all directions. Each thread is an interesting metaphor, or is it simply a thread? The viewer can determine the answer.

Gio Swaby: Fresh Up continues through October 9 at the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts. Go to mfastpete.org for tickets and more information. The exhibition is co-organized by the MFA and the Arts Institute of Chicago.