Anya Paintsil’s character-filled textiles are inspired by her childhood, culture and mythology

The Chester-based textile artist’s rugs are not to be stepped on, but to be closely observed like any other work of art.

23 August 2023

It seems as though artists can’t escape creating work that reckons with the good, the bad and the ugly. Many present us with oeuvres that expose what truly makes them tick – from culture to societal pressures and the home – allowing us to interpret and hopefully appreciate. In the Chester-based artist Anya Paintsil’s textile-rich practice full of rugs and tapestries, she deeply weaves autobiographical themes that speak to her background at our feet. “I pull references from all over the place – I often work with folk tales and mythology from Wales and Ghana,” she tells us. “As someone who didn’t really study art formally until my mid-twenties, a lot of influences came through the art I was exposed to in my home in Wales. There were a lot of Ghanaian art books and ephemera that kept me and my siblings connected,” she adds.

During her school years, Anya found art classes to be uninspiring, leading her to drop them at the first opportunity. But all was not lost, as she took up art at home during her teens in the form of rug-making techniques passed down by her grandmother. “Working in this way has always been super intuitive for me, it allows me to experiment with a variety of materials,” she tells us. Starting to incorporate hair – actual human hair – into her work during that time, over the years it has become a fixture in her practice; she adores the connection between techniques and tools used in textiles and those used to create afro hairstyles. “West African masks and wood carvings have also had a great influence on my work. It’s shaped how I make faces, eyes, mouths and teeth. Growing up and seeing Fante Asafo flags – figurative military flags illustrating strength, proverbs and words of wisdom – has really shaped my practice,” she adds.


Anya Paintsil: Neigh (Copyright © Anya Paintsil, 2023)

Textile works – especially rugs – usually evoke feelings of comfort, reminding us of our homes as we decorate them to our tastes. Sometimes we assume that the artist isn’t dealing with themes as serious as say, a painter, or that they aren’t dealing with concepts at all. Throughout her works, what is alarming is a particular sense of discomfort, rage and confusion seen in her character’s expressions, and the intense expressions when two characters interact. “I often work with folk tales and mythology, but they always have a significance in my own life; the stories I was told as a child, fables about places I’ve visited a lot, childhood memories, personal narratives and family legends – sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes traumatic,” she tells us. Among her work’s personal air, she also aims to tackle themes such as race and identity outside of urban centres. “Addressing this culture of marginalising creative practices often dominated by women, such as fibre arts and craft making, is also deeply important to me.”

Among her collection of works is one of Anya’s favourite self portraits, But I have promises to keep, and Miles to go before I sleep. “It’s about me stupidly deciding to start braiding my hair late in the day and by the time 2am rolls around I feel like impaling myself on a rattail comb,” she tells us. The labour intensive and tiresome task is akin to how she describes her practice. “My process often takes a toll and involves the entirety of my body. I have to bend and crouch in uncomfortable positions for hours, and do a lot of repetitive movements. Something is always hurting.” But just like braiding her hair, in Anya’s world the work will always get done as she continues to be be driven by her craft and culture.


Anya Paintsil: But I Have Promises to Keep and Miles to go before I sleep (Copyright © Anya Paintsil 2022, Courtesy Vortic Curated)


Anya Paintsil: A Nurse and Nanny even when I am a bloody Granny (Copyright © Anya Paintsil 2023, Courtesy Hannah Traore Gallery)


Anya Paintsil: Cwympo ni'n dau, wel dyna i chi dric!ll (We both fall over that’s the trick ll) (Copyright © Anya Paintsil 2023, Courtesy Ed Cross Fine Art)


Anya Paintsil: Dros y mynydd (Copyright © Anya Paintsil 2023, Courtesy Hannah Traore Gallery)


Anya Paintsil: In My Wurzite Boron Nirtrade Energy l' (Copyright © Anya Paintsil 2023, Courtesy Hannah Traore Gallery)


Anya Paintsil: Bolognese (Copyright © Anya Paintsil and image taken by Rocio Chacon 2022, Courtesy Ed Cross Fine Art)


Anya Paintsil: Ebo (Copyright © Anya Paintsil and image taken by Rocio Chacon 2022, Courtesy Ed Cross Fine Art)


Anya Paintsil: Except Now I'm Drinking £21.99 Tokaji From Waitrose (Copyright © Anya Paintsil 2023, Courtesy Hannah Traore Gallery)

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Anya Paintsil: She had fingers like lead, she could run them under boiling water. She wore the longest acrylics I’d ever seen. I wanted to be just like her. I hope I can be to you what she was to me (Copyright © Anya Paintsil 2023, Courtesy Hannah Traore Gallery)

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About the Author

Yaya Azariah Clarke

Yaya (they/them) was previously a staff writer at It’s Nice That. With a particular interest in Black visual culture, they have previously written for publications such as WePresent, alongside work as a researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.

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