Boxing gloves typically evoke associations with masculinity, competition, and aggression, but Zoë Buckman punches back with her series of mixed-media sculptures and embroidered textile pieces. Sometimes draped like bunches of dried flowers and other times balanced delicately on top of one another, they “question whether they are holding each other up or tearing each other down,” says a statement. Taking a feminist and activist approach to challenging preconceptions about gender, trauma, and safety, she became interested in the symbolic dualities of the gloves, both in the way they are made and used.
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For the last few years, the glove sculptures have formed a focal point for a number of bodies of work that explore the relationship between strength and vulnerability. Buckman encases each form in fabrics like tablecloths, dish rags, or dresses, then suspends them in groups from ribbons affixed to metal chains. Installed at the height of a punching bag, they provoke tension between feelings of hostility and support, highlighting connections and contrasts between places where people exert intense energy and force, such as gyms, and places associated with calm and security, like home.
Constructed of cotton batting or polyurethane foam and covered in leather, traditional boxing gloves are malleable, yet the finished form is a solid instrument for force and protection. By wrapping each piece in fabric associated with womenswear or domestic settings, the artist challenges the notion of gendered spaces, such as the home being feminine or the boxing ring masculine. Through her use of materials, she also dissects gendered associations of fabric and textile.
Buckman has strongly advocated for women’s rights to abortion and bodily autonomy. In her most recent series Bloodwork, vintage handkerchiefs, doilies, and upholstery remnants provide the canvas for embroidered statements conveying responses to experiences of domestic abuse, illness, and hardship. As a revolt against negativity or oppression, figures of women—many of whom she knows personally—are portrayed in scenes of celebration or repose. The text and figures sewn into the fabric also appear unfinished with dangling threads and raw, asymmetrical edges in an ongoing state of transformation and becoming.
Buckman is exhibiting in We Flew Over the Wild Winds of Wild Fires at MOTHER Gallery in Beacon, New York, until September 18. She will also be presenting a solo show at London’s Pippy Houldsworth Gallery opening on September 2. You can find more information on the artist’s website and on Instagram.