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Merill Comeau Explores Community and Identity Through Textile Creations

Submitted by on June 11, 2018 – 4:55 pmNo Comment

In therapy, the term “family of origin” refers to the caretakers and siblings you grow up with, your first ever social group. In Merill Comeau’s upcoming show at the Chandler Gallery, the term, like the material she works with, is deconstructed and reimagined. Each piece is a representation of different familial experiences, and how those experiences intersect with one’s sense of identity and community.

The installations, murals, and garments of Comeau’s show all have their own origins too: some with personal meaning, like her late mother’s blouses, others from vintage linens and miscellaneous repurposed material, like the floor plan of a child’s bedroom. Clothing and fabric are distinctly human and, as Comeau noted, they are often used to mark life’s passages and rituals. These purposes are in mind as they are juxtaposed to “tell tales of our shared human experience.”

“These materials reflect memories of lives lived, social constructs of identity and class, our speeded up consumer cycle and global issues of sustainability,” Comeau explained. “I deconstruct, paint, compost, reconstruct and embellish responding to the fabric’s origins and composing new narratives.”

While she derives some inspiration from feminist artists like Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro, Comeau also felt inspired in her work with the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services. There, she teaches art to students who are 14 to 22 years old, serving sentences in secure treatment facilities.

“Frequently, they have experienced trauma within their ‘families of origin’ and often do not identify with society’s idealized image of well-functioning ‘normal’ family,” she said. “I share a similar feeling.”

Her art, she explained, is a way of processing that trauma by performing tasks such as seam ripping, laundering, ironing and stitching. She both literally and figuratively mends and repairs, what she called “an act of exorcising memory and building hope.” Even when life is seemingly in tatters, there is something to be built from it.

“Family of Origin” is on display at the Chandler Gallery from July 9-August 3. The opening reception will be held on Thursday, July 12, 6:00-8:00 pm.

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