A! Magazine for the Arts

"Protest Until..." Hand-dyed, handwoven wool with steel rods, 100"x 60", 2016

"Protest Until..." Hand-dyed, handwoven wool with steel rods, 100"x 60", 2016

Personal experiences embedded in art by Alex Younger

August 25, 2020

Alex Younger’s art is intensely personal. She grew up surrounded by artists – her parents – and her focus on political art arose from sexual assault.

“My parents were my first teachers. My dad grew up with a darkroom in his basement and taught me photography, while my mom taught me how to weave with her on her floor looms. The first piece I remember doing is a small tapestry made on a piece of cardboard when I was about 8, with green and blue lumps to represent water, hills and sky. I also took many photos of signs and garbage cans.

Like her father, she began her career as a photographer. She then transitioned into textile work like her mother.

“I like to think that tactility is a defining factor in my work. Because I use text heavily, I rely on my material decisions to add meaning and visual interest. These days, most of my pieces use multiple techniques, whether weaving, dye, printmaking, stitchwork, or photography. The layering leads to a more complex and tactile final piece,” she says.

Younger didn’t set out to create political art, but her work has always been viewed as political.

“I always felt that I made the work I wanted to make, and other people imposed the idea that it was political. It didn’t begin as a conscious decision. I just knew that I wasn’t interested in making art that existed only for itself. There are times – often when I’m deep in research of laws or psychological studies – when I wish that I could make work about color and form, but I know that it wouldn’t hold my interest for long.

“Much of my work is focused on the systems and structures that maintain and support sexual violence, whether that be school adjudication procedures, the inequalities of court filings or the laws themselves. I am a multiple sexual assault survivor, and it’s work that I began after going through my undergraduate college’s hearing process and finding myself woefully underprepared for the ordeal.

“I also have a subset of work — which both the pieces in this show pull from — that looks at the creation and construction of political language and symbols. Can a protest banner have legible meaning without text? Do we give power to constructed statements if they are presented with authority? Do we view them as positive or negative, depending on how we believe they are sourced?

“I have always been politically active, and though I can’t say that this work has stemmed from a singular source, it has pulled from experience over years of protesting, observing political campaigns, and observing the sloganeering and simplification of political thought down to bite sized statements, which did not originate from but has only increased with the dominance of social media,” Younger says.

Younger is a multidisciplinary artist who was born in Oakland, California, and raised in the Capital District of New York State. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Swarthmore College in 2012 with an honors major in English literature and a course major/honors minor in studio art. She became a sexual assault activist in 2015, after the college adjudication of her case resulted in her attacker receiving 10 days of probation. In 2018, she received her MFA in fiber and material studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is a Gold Zloty Medal Laureate from the 16th International Tapestry Triennial. Her work has been shown internationally and across the United States, including Chicago, New York City, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Portugal, Ukraine and Poland. She has been awarded residencies with ACRE Projects, Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, the Studios at Mass MoCA and Byrdcliffe Arts Colony and has received an Integrity: Arts & Culture Association Mini-Grant and the Trabue Women’s Professional Arts Grant. She has taught through the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Columbia College.