Spotlight on

Textile Art and Sealife: Vanessa Barragão

translation by Chiara Cordoni

The images published in the article have been extracted from the official website of the artist:

The young Portuguese artist, 27, exhibited this summer at Heathrow airport, London, a large tapestry with a world map, where nature and the sea are the real stars

Who joins textile art and seabed? Vanessa Barragão. Who sculps by weaving or embroidering corals, flowers or seaweeds? Vanessa Barragão. Who intends to give voice to environmental protection with her art? Vanessa Barragão.

I was struck by one of her tapestries. I saw it on the website of this young Portuguese artist, 27 years old…  Here she is posing, smiling and happy, proud in front of her masterpiece… how wonderful!

BOTANICAL TAPESTRYby Vanessa Barragão 2019 wool, cotton and jute – 600X200 cm  – fonte:

The tapestry is huge – it measures 6 meters by 2 – and it represents the world map with all its lush nature. It’s called ‘Botanical Tapestry’, and it can be seen at London Heathrow Airport. Until recently it was hanging in Terminal 2, now it is in search of a permanent position within the same airport, where it will remain.

Vanessa Barragão was born in 1992 in Albufeira, a fishing village overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, in the Algarve, in the south of Portugal. Her inspiration mainly comes from the sea, but also from nature and the moon. Her visions are translated in textile art. She was raised in a family of artisans, halfway between the sea and the countryside. Her grandfather had a farm and was a carpenter, but as a child she used to observe her grandmothers, expert knitters, crocheting and sewing. She started creating dresses for her dolls using their scraps and today she sews and weaves with the same philosophy: many of her yarns are recycled, wastes of big Portuguese tapestry industries. She embraces an old and yet current philosophy: zero waste!

BOTANICAL TAPESTRY (details)- by Vanessa Barragão 2019 wool, cotton and jute – 600X200 cm – 

As a child the contact with the sea and plants, as an adult her wish to create but always by respecting nature. Ecological projects, ecological materials and ecological themes to raise awareness on the risks of pollution in society, underlining – as she herself explained – that environmental protection involves many aspects of our daily life: food, transport, clothes, furniture, energy and much more. When studying fashion design, Vanessahad learned a lot about production processes and she had discovered that the textile industry, with its machinery, fiber processing and chemical dyeing, is, unfortunately, particularly poisonous.

After graduating and specializing in fashion design in Lisbon, Vanessa moved to Porto and started working as a designer in Tapetes Beiriz, the oldest rug factory in Portugal. After a short while, in 2014, she founded her personal studio. Here, using deadstock from the industry, she started creating her first artworks. The main theme is the sea, or rather the Ocean with all its colors: the deep blue of the seabed (which, quoting Vanessa, troubles her), currents, algae, shells and corals. The corals are embroidered in white to underline the progressive depletion of the sea.

BOTANICAL TAPESTRY (details)- by Vanessa Barragão 2019 wool, cotton and jute – 600X200 cm – 

These art pieces slowly made her famous, each one of them is a small or big sculpture in which various fiber art techniques are combined: crochet, felt, knitting, and weaving.

In Heathrow’s big tapestry in Terminal 2 there is all this: it is a lively world map, where the intense blue of the ocean leaps to the eyes. And on land there is the green, the yellow typical of desertic areas, and some colorful flowers, under one of these flowers we see Italy disappearing.

The tapestry was commissioned by a partnership between Heathrow Airport and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew (London). It’s all handmade: it took 520 hours of work, 8 kilos of jute and 42 kilos of recycled wool.

This is Vanessa’s work process, quoting her words. She usually doesn’t draw her project in detail: “Before I start, I decide the size, shape and color tones I want to use. Creative ideas come up as I progress and the result is always different. It is a surprise for me too”. Not only does it surprise Vanessa,it also surprises those who come across this young Portuguese artist!