Basketry lacks a glamorous reputation, being more likely associated with little girls wandering through woods to visit sick grandmothers. Its appearance in folklore and the Bible reflects its status as one of the most ancient crafts – and helps explain its dusty, rustic image.
Today, basketry has been replaced by Tupperware, neoprene and other streamlined, carapace-like, hermetic materials. Our contact with one of the world’s most commonplace materials has been reduced to picnic hampers, bike baskets and garden furniture. But basketry’s liberation from hard labour in the UK has allowed it to enter a new age of decorative design and artistic uselessness.
Basketry: Making Human Nature, an exhibition at the University of East Anglia, attempts to demonstrate how technological and expressive basketry has become.
A huge panel from Thomas Heatherwick’s unearthly, billowing basket facade, created for Guy’s Hospital’s boiler room, will sit with site-specific commissions by artists, including Ueno Masao, that respond to the architecture of the university’s Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts.
Contemporary works by Mathias Bengtsson and Dail Behennah will showcase the inherent geometry of woven objects with computer image-inspired contours and chaotic-looking items made from reclaimed plastic and wire.
The show does not neglect basketry’s history and its role in everyday life around the world, exhibiting shields from North East Congo, fish traps from Cameroon, Ghana and Thailand, and masks made by Angola’s Salampasu tribe.