Jessica Lagunas: With Every Fiber at Pelham Art Center

The artist and “Por siempre joven” (Forever Young) Series. Installation at the Bronx Museum’s The Block Gallery, 2019. Photo courtesy Argenis Apolinario/The Bronx Museum of the Arts

Jessica Lagunas is Interested in working with unconventional materials—makeup, hair, perfume, organic materials—through video-performance, installation, drawing, prints, artist books, embroidery, and recently, weaving. She is a New York City-based Latinx artist, whose group exhibitions include El Museo del Barrio’s The (S) Files Biennial, The Bronx Museum of the Arts’ Artist in the Marketplace, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA at Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara and Laxart, among others.

Lagunas has received the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters & Sculptors Grant; residencies at Bronx Museum’s AIM Alumni Residency, Joan Mitchell Center (New Orleans), El Museo del Barrio’s Back in Five Minutes. Her work has been featured in Madam & Eve (London: Laurence King Publishing), and Imagining Ourselves: Global Voices from a New Generation of Women (San Francisco: New World Library). Her work is in the collection of The Bronx Museum of the Arts, through a donation from the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros.

What brought you to work in Fiber?

For years I’ve been attracted to non-traditional materials. I use hair instead of thread to embroider and weave, creating drawings and metaphors about the passing of time, or more recently, to create community portraits. In my early thirties I had the dilemma: Should I start dying my hair like my mom, and become a slave of this ritual? Or just let my gray hair grow?

This “fear” of gray hairs led me to notice that because of their thickness they resembled white thread. That gave me the idea for “Por siempre joven” (Forever Young)—an on-going life project, a self-portrait started when I turned 33 years old—where I pluck my gray hair to each year embroider my age, and at the same time, to get rid of these “disgraced” hairs, solving my dilemma. Around 2-3 years into the process, this meditative act of embroidery transformed my views and helped me accept having gray hair—I made peace with it—and let it grow. Now I just collect the hair I shed while brushing or showering. Having said that, although I love textiles and fibers, I don’t consider myself a textile artist, but one that uses that media to create certain projects.

Jessica Lagunas’ “Por siempre joven” (Forever Young) Series, #33 to #47, 2004-2019. Artist’s gray hair, black silk, and embroidery hoops. Photo courtesy Roni Mocán

Tell me about the genesis of work in this group show and what is the idea behind it?

On a trip to NY my mom brought me a pin loom she said I had left in Guatemala. I don’t remember having one at all, but I was curious to see what I could do with it. Even though I learned embroidery, knitting, and crochet as a child, I never learned weaving, until I took Loop of the Loom’s saori weaving workshop as part of the show “Fiber Futures: Japan’s Textile Pioneers” at Japan Society in 2011. This was very influential and inspired me to explore the idea of using traditional weaving in my own practice but using non-traditional materials. Since I already was collecting some transition hairs (gradually changing from white to dark) along with my gray hairs, I decided to use those to experiment. Also, having grown up in Guatemala with its strong textile tradition I felt a great attraction and connection to weaving.

Can you elaborate on your process of working in fiber?

Since 2012 I have been creating small hair weaves on a pin loom. All these are done weaving with a needle one hair at a time. I use silk thread for the warp (vertical lines), and my own hair for the weft (horizontal lines). The ideas for the first pieces came mostly from experimentation and learning how best to use the hair, relying heavily on its color and position to create monochromes, patterns, or effects by interlocking them, like the ombré shading technique.

Recently I started making watercolor sketches. For example, I have been inspired by the paintings of Agnes Martin, and made 2 pieces in her honor, plus one that I’m currently working on. In Pin Loom #5, I used only hairs that were at least 20 inches long, to create fine lines by alternating white and dark hair. In Pin Loom #7, I created thicker bands of white and dark hair.

Overall, these works are very much about time, meditation, and patience. Each one takes around 40-50 hours to finish. I enjoy weaving these as its repetitive tasks give me peace of mind; I need to be fully focused while working on them.

Jessica Lagunas’ Pin Loom Hair Weaves installation at Pelham Art Center, 2021. Photo courtesy Roni Mocán

Jessica Lagunas’ Pin Loom Hair Weaves (clockwise from upper left #4, #6, #7, #5), 2016-20. Artist’s gray and dark hair, silk thread, and brass rods. Photo courtesy Roni Mocán

How do you see the work in this show in context of your overall work?

This work continues to use hair as a material as I have been doing for more than 16 years, and deals with issues such as aging, beauty, DNA/heredity, identity, individual expression. It also resonates with my previous works criticizing standards of beauty, particularly women’s pressures and our relationships with hair. Whether to stylize, dye, cut, or grow our grays, we hardly are content the way our hair looks.

A lot of my work is about obsessions, making myself vulnerable, exposing myself. Pressured to look always youthful, we are encouraged to do so many things with our bodies. I don’t accept this. Instead, embroidery encourages me to embrace my age every year.

Jessica Lagunas’ “Por siempre joven” (Forever Young) #48, Detail, 2020. Artist’s gray hair, black silk, and embroidery hoop. Photo courtesy Roni Mocán

With Every Fiber at Pelham Art Center ran through April 3rd, 2021

Virtual Studio visit: Jessica Lagunas in April 8th, 2021 5-6PM

Curated by Anki King. Artists: Joy Curtis, Ruby Chishti, Victoria Udondian, Jessica Lagunas, Liz Whitney Quisgard, Mary Ann Lomonaco, and Mary Tooley Parker 

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: