Collective Ancestry Emerges in the Countless Faces of Nastassja Swift’s Portraits

“so I filled my nest with flowers from your garden”  (2023), wool, glass beads, wood, and foam, 30 x 12 x 12 inches. Photos by David Hunter Hale. All images © Nastassja Swift, shared with permission

From felted wool and quilted fabric, vibrant portraits emerge in sculptures and tapestries by Nastassja Swift (previously). Tiny faces coat the base of a blossom-like bust or swim around the billowing forms of her Sack Series, evoking a sense of universal connectedness. The artist is influenced by family history, textile traditions, West African masks, and Yoruba rituals, gathering numerous tiny visages into compositions that speak to ancestral collectivity, shared experiences, and memories of African diasporic communities.

Tapping into the rich heritage of Black quilting traditions, Swift began to make tapestries depicting family members, spurred by a project in 2021 titled Canaan: when I read your letter, I feel your voice, which evolved from an exchange between the artist and her brother, Canaan, who is currently incarcerated within the Virginia Department of Corrections.

During this time, Swift began leaning away from wool toward quilted portraits, but she wanted to retain the presence of a sculptural object. “I still wanted them to have dimension, which informed the decision of how to display each quilt,” she tells Colossal, deciding to install the pieces on hand-made rods by fellow artist Patty Lyons, depicting faces and braid-like tendrils. She draws from family photographs of her relatives, including a snap of herself as a baby in the arms of her aunt, creating a unique, family-centered self-portrait.

Swift has recently returned to using wool, sometimes adding wood and beads, plus further explorations into unconventional materials. These experiments, which incorporate found objects like plastic bags and thrifted hair barrettes, are the beginnings of a project exploring the history and identity of the hood as a garment.

“so I filled my nest with flowers from your garden” is one of two pieces on view at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore through September 30. The show, BLACK WOMAN GENIUS, positions the work of the late Elizabeth Talford Scott at the core of a group exhibition featuring work by nine contemporary Black women fiber artists from the Chesapeake area.

Explore more on Swift’s website, and follow updates on Instagram.

Detail of “so I filled my nest with flowers from your garden”

“of a feather” (2023), wool, velvet, leather, iron, glass beads, and batting, 40 x 48 x 6 inches

Detail of “of a feather”

“For Auntie Rasha (Self Portrait)” (2022), wool, naturally dyed cotton, mixed fabrics, iron, plastic, and tapestry rod fabricated by Patty Lyons, 40 x 30 x 4 inches

Detail of “For Auntie Rasha (Self Portrait)”

“we have to fight, although we have to cry (a quote from the Sonia Sanchez poem, “Morning Song and Evening Walk”)” (2023), wool, velvet, leather, wood, and batting, 30 x 19 x 8.5 inches

“For Granddaddy” (2022), wool, mixed fabrics, glass beads, iron, plastic, and tapestry rod fabricated by Patty Lyons, 48 x 38 x 4 inches

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Source: Art -


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