This summer, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents the New England debut of Gio Swaby: Fresh Up. Featuring nearly two dozen textile-based portraits, the exhibition celebrates self-expression and the cultivation of love through the work of Bahamian born, Canada based artist, Gio Swaby (b. 1991). This exhibition, Swaby’s first solo museum show, was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg and the Art Institute of Chicago and is on view at PEM from August 12 through November 26, 2023.
Swaby creates portraits of the women in her life using a range of sewing techniques. Each portrait begins with a photo shoot where the artist invites women to show up as they are, wearing what makes them feel comfortable and confident. As the subjects relax in front of her camera, Swaby captures them in moments of self-awareness and empowerment. These images of friends, sisters, and herself are then transformed through the artist’s machine embroidery and needlework. Anchored in the desire to represent and celebrate nuanced ways Black women express themselves, Swaby refers to the portraits as “love letters to Black women and girls.”
The title of the exhibition, Fresh Up, is a Bahamian phrase often used as a way to compliment someone’s style or confident way of being. Swaby has remarked, “It holds a lot of positivity and joy. It also speaks to the tone of confidence and power that I want to create with these works. I love that it is a way to form connections through a simple phrase.”