Delaine Le Bas, the Turner prize nominee who is fighting Romany discrimination

I’ve created a world, and it’s called Delainia,” says Delaine Le Bas, speaking ahead of the opening of her oeuvre exhibition in Glasgow Delainia: 17071965 Unfolding. Working with textiles, sculpture and performance art, the British Romany artist has been making art with politicians for most of her life.. “It starts with my birthday [referenced in the title of the exhibition], but it is still ongoing. I’m using the word ‘unfolding’ because one thing leads into the other,” she says. “I see my work as one big piece.”

Le Bas’ tapestries, drawings, videos and costumes are interwoven with recurring themes and motifs, related to racism, feminism and untold history. Her work tackles the exclusion of Roma, Gypsy and Travellers, incorporating graphic symbols and language to comment on the historical and ongoing oppression and misrepresentation of these communities. This year, she has been nominated for the Turner prize and the Glasgow show is an opportunity to see her work before the Turner nominees are shown at London’s Tate Britain in September. In Glasgow, Le Bas will showcase textiles and embroidery that have lasted over the years, along with a new site-specific installation of a metal circus carriage. These pieces, both old and new, form a constellation of woven, drawn, painted and sculpted fragments that are resurfaced as part of new allegorical installations.

“I was always driven by politics,” says Le Bas. Born in Worthing in 1965, she was the only child of five siblings to finish school. She joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament when she was just 13 years old, and admired punk bands such as X-Ray Spex. “It was the first time I’d ever heard someone speak in any way about how I felt about myself in the world,” she says.

It’s almost like creating many different doors for people to enter through

A lover of fashion and textiles, Le Bas was determined to go to art school. “The way you wear things sends signals and messages,” she says. “I’m interested in how you can distort the images on textiles, play with it and create other messages within that.” She gained a place to study at West Sussex College of Design, where she met her late husband, the artist Damian Le Bas, also a member of the Travelers, who died in 2017. She went on head to Central Saint Martins, he to the Royal College of Art. ; they were married for 34 years and collaborated on several projects that tackled the demonization of marginalized communities.

Found objects, knick-knacks, totems and embroidery are central to Le Bas’s world, as is the text. The artist always has a small notebook to jot down ideas. “Language is a huge and exclusive tool. It is used as a tactic to exclude and manipulate people,” she says. Her performance and installation work was Beware of Linguistic Engineering, examines how – from Thatcherism to Brexit – language has been weaponized in politics. “The language that has historically been used to describe people like me still dominates a vision of who I should be.” she says. “That alone is a very powerful thing that you’re always up against.”

This mixed media approach is the ideal medium for questioning, criticizing and digesting Le Bas’ compulsion. “I’m from a community where [the amount of people] not being able to read and write still high. It’s another set of communication channels,” she says. “I want to have a conversation with as many people as possible; it’s almost like creating many different doors for people to enter.”

Delainia: 17071965 Unfolding at Tramway, Glasgow, is part of the Glasgow International Festival which runs from 7-23 June

A guided tour of Delainia: five works

Le Bas House, 2023
An archival exhibition, this installation of personal ephemera – journals, records, artworks and items of clothing – traces the artist’s relationship and collaboration with her husband, Damian Le Bas. Together, they question what it means to be a foreigner, and their experiences of negative attitudes towards the Gypsy, Roma and Traveler communities in the UK.

Damaged Goods, 2005 (main image)
Le Bas’s textile works are sewn, printed, collaged and embroidered, dressed with feathers and padded with sequins, made from everyday objects, often found at car boot sales and charity shops. Costumes are made from dresses, masks and kitsch toys, in a style described by the artist as “precious yet regenerated”.

Talay O Puv, O Zeisko Tan Part 1, 2021
Le Bas works from her home and garden – “my biggest space” – in Worthing. She paints out on the washing line, testing materials and textures with a bricolage approach. This work was done during the Covid-19 lockdown and shows an imaginary universe and interconnectedness in a time characterized by isolation.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 2013
This piece is part of a wider installation entitled Safe European Home?, made in collaboration with Le Bas’s husband. The project, presented for the first time outside the Vienna parliament in 2011, criticizes the revival of far-right politics. This tapestry outlines all 30 human rights, scattered around the sinister figure of Mickey Mouse. “Too many people don’t know what the declaration is,” she says.

Witch Hunt, 2009
Witches are a common character in the works of Le Bas. “It’s about this idea of ​​being on the outside, having visions, or the power to heal, and how that’s malignant,” she says. Like many outsiders, these women inspired hysteria and were persecuted because of their elements. In 2009, Le Bas produced an installation and a book, using the real witch to explore intolerance and misinformation.

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