Textile Museum Profile: Melina Mehr

NOW Digital Residency: Textile Museum of Canada

As part of this month’s Textile Museum of Canada Digital Residency, we’re profiling a number of artists and professionals associated with the museum and wider community. See all of the profiles here.

What’s your connection to the Textile Museum? 

I was hired as a research assistant in the education and public programming department. My main project has been cataloguing the Museum’s teaching collection of over 400 objects to find interesting ways to utilize them in our programming.

What do you do in your industry? 

I create public programs in contemporary art institutions with a focus on cultural representation, inclusion and accessibility. I see it as a way to engage with visitors that may not initially have an interest in art, or who have never seen themselves represented in art. I’m also a web developer and am in the planning stages of creating responsive web platforms about art history through the lens of artists of colour and women.

In your opinion, how can textiles tell stories? 

Every object has a narrative, and the nature of textiles is so multidimensional: it tells a story through the process and the person who made it, and how their personal history is embedded in the piece by way of intent with fabric, stitching, colour, design. Textiles tell stories in how they’re presented contextually, and in being physical evidence of history. Their stories begin with the hand that creates them, but realistically never ends so long as they continue to be viewed, discussed or even thought of.

What’s your favourite place in Toronto to do some creative thinking?

I love public benches and parks! During the weekday mornings, the hilltop of the Dog Bowl (an open-leash dog area) in Trinity Bellwoods Park is my spot to watch dogs while I brainstorm. It gets way too busy to focus in the afternoon and on weekends though. In the winter, I hide out in my neighbourhood cafés, The Common and Field Trip.

One of the Textile Museum’s current exhibitions features the works of Itchiku Kubota, whose artistic career focused intensely on the kimono. What do you think we can learn from this kind of creative dedication?

Kubota’s craft shows a great deal of discipline, which is extremely admirable for an artist. To focus on perfecting a single technique allows an artist to really master their particular visions and goals. At the same time, Kubota was reinventing a historical tradition and making it his own, which speaks to many contemporary practices of looking to the past for inspiration, but reorienting it to fit into modern landscapes. 

So much of our attention is drawn to the digital and virtual possibilities of art. Can you explain what role textiles play in your day-to-day life?

Textiles play a huge role in my life when it comes to sustainability and supporting ethical practices. I starting shopping vintage when I was a teenager, and my closet is pretty much entirely either second-hand or locally/ethically-made garments. Textiles have also been a source of experimentation for me – I used to screen-print on fabric, I’ve spent summers playing with dyeing techniques and want to try my hand at stitching and embroidery. I find textiles to be a very physical and fun way to learn new methods of art-making.

Name one artist of any discipline and any era who never ceases to inspire you.

André 3000! He’s so relentless when it comes to experimentation – he tries everything and does so in such an idiosyncratic way. He’s always been ahead of the curve when it comes to music, art and fashion, and I admire the risks he’s taken throughout his career. He’s also honest about creatively difficult periods too. 

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