The Black Gold Tapestry is an enormous artwork: 67 metres in length – a scale equivalent to two city blocks or the height of a 20-story building. This hand-embroidered illustrative tapestry tells the story of how oil has impacted human civilizations around the world, from the beginning of time to the present day.
I wanted it to be a work that makes direct contact with people’s understanding and also has layered meanings. The story of oil seemed to me to be the right narrative because it affects and informs every aspect of our material world – pun intended.
The Black Gold Tapestry has taken nine years to complete. Artist Sandra Sawatzky spent an average of eight to ten hours a day – every day – on the project, researching, drawing, planning and embroidering.
Inspired by an exhibition of historical embroidery at Glenbow Museum in 2007, Sawatsky, a filmmaker, artist and life-long hand-sewer and designer of clothes, finally tried embroidery and was hooked. Her passion for storytelling kicked in, and she began to wonder how she could combine the art of drawing and embroidery into a larger project.
How could I move it out of the realm of old fashioned lady’s/women’s work and do something really cool, something epic, something like The Bayeux tapestry that tells a story of the Battle of Hastings in 1066 - an epic battle that changed the course of European history. What is our Battle of Hastings? What story has had such massive repercussions?
Sawatsky’s dream of creating a saga of grand proportions with colourful thread coalesced with the notion of telling a social history of oil. From bitumen bubbling up in the waterways and marshes of Iraq 5,000 years ago to the enormous impact of oil on Alberta’s and the global economy today, oil and natural gas have fueled human ingenuity, progress, warfare, disaster, prosperity and commerce across the globe. In The Black Gold Tapestry, the “massive repercussions” that oil continues to have on human destiny play out across 67 metres of linen fabric. Sawatsky has highlighted fascinating vignettes from past and present that will surprise and even delight viewers of this truly epic project.