Iona Danald: A textile artist weaving to heal

Iona Danald: A textile artist weaving to heal

Sensitive in nature, Spotlight 2019 winner Iona Danald explores and expresses emotion and empathy in each of her pieces.

By Rebecca Yeoh

Iona Danald is a self-taught artist who began with painting and later ventured into textile works. The 26-year-old Sarawakian spent some time in Scotland pursuing her degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering and later moved to Penang to work for a data processing company.

She lacked a sense of fulfilment while on this technical, repetitive path. This feeling, piled on top of some very emotional moments in life contributed to her quitting her job.

After that, Danald began her career as an artist in 2019, with her first group exhibition Young & New VII at HOM Art Trans.  She began by painting self-portraits using acrylic on canvas. Her self portraits expressed her personal pain and acted as a coping mechanism to healthily project her negative emotions. Although she began with a medium that was familiar to her, she continuously seeks to improve herself as an individual and as an artist.

Una, 2018

A month after, she began an Artist in Residency programme at Asia Community Service (ACS), working with children and adults with intellectual disabilities. It was at this point of time that Danald felt her life change as she knew she ‘wanted to work with the less fortunate and in textile’. 

When looking back into her family history, she could not help but notice that most of her family members knew some form of sewing, mainly because her grandmother was a seamstress and farmer in a village in Kuching, Sarawak.

Upon returning from Scotland after her bachelor’s degree, Danald went home to Kuching and found sewing materials that her grandmother left the family with. ‘Most of the material I am using now is from her. It gives a bit more meaning for me, giving them a second life and transforming them into a different way of looking at things, in a different light; appreciation at a whole new level.’

As a collector of stories who uses yarn and textile as a medium of expression, she has chosen a road less travelled. She has spent a lot of time listening to herself and to the people around her, to identify the stories that move her and to ensure that these stories are being heard through her art.

One example is the beauty of womanhood and the suffering from miscarriages through Mother and Child, 2019 (2 panels of textile/mixed media: charcoal, chiffon, embroidery hoop, mirror, plaster, towel, safety pins and donated clothing items) and Fertilitea, 2019.

Mother and Child, 2019

Danald’s journey as a textile artist was a journey with her fair share of doubts and struggles. Despite that, she did all she could to achieve the recognition she deserves as an emerging artist. Her career as an artist took a positive turn when she won Spotlight 2019 by Penang Art District. She submitted Fertilitea, 2019 (Mixed media: chiffon, burlap and safety pins), a piece that was inspired by the Korean Bojagi, a traditional Korean method of cloth wrapping in the form of patchwork.

Traditionally, this method was used to wrap gifts for weddings – to protect the gift and to express good luck and longevity. Instead of sewing the pieces together, Danald chose to use safety pins to hold together the fragile pieces of fabric. Safety pins are a ‘symbol of motherhood and early childhood associated with the image of a fastener for a baby’s diaper’. In Indian culture, safety pins are kept through generations and are passed down to the daughters in the family.

These symbols are represented in Fertilitea as a personal ode to a friend who experienced a miscarriage but was recovering well, surrounded by friends and family members.

Fertilitea, 2019

Danald emerged as the winner at the Spotlight 2019 competition. ‘I am grateful for it and it took me by surprise… the piece was a sort of secret hooray celebration for my friend’. Winning the competition has given her the opportunity for her first solo, which was slated to take place in May this year, helping her artistic confidence as well as people seeing her work.

Seeing this as a catapult to a future of being a textile artist, Danald is constantly exploring new techniques and methods. ‘I have always loved textile, fabric, fabric manipulation, dyes, knitting, weaving; anything to do with textile, that’s me!’.

She also spends a large amount of time reading about women in different cultures and incorporating sustainability in her work, realising that every little effort counts when it comes to doing her bit for the environment. ‘I believe that if you have to leave a person, leave them better than you met them. And the same rules apply to you leaving the earth. Leave the world a better place.’

Her interest in female narratives, mental health, and sustainability makes her an intriguing artist to watch as she continues to fuse story and technique to produce work that has empathy at its centre.

Cover image courtesy of the artist

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Iona Danald’s Spotlight Solo Exhibition which was initially scheduled to open at Ming Fine Art Gallery in May will be postponed to August, with dates and details to be confirmed.

Rebecca Yeoh is a curator and writer. She graduated from Universiti Sains Malaysia and King’s College London. With a Certificate in Curatorial Practices, Rebecca has curated in Penang and Venice.