VAP2021-Q1 Words and Pictures

Untangled storylines and the shape of time in the work of Stephanie Eche.

Written by Jenn Cacciola.

Sometimes a ruthlessly reminiscent sound, smell or texture will cause me to pick up and dust off some dated memory and recall how dominant, present, and core to my identity it was at one time. For a moment, the plates of my personal history and of the world’s start to shift, bump, and reposition themselves within time, like loosened ice sheets on black water. Stephanie Eche’s weavings and mixed-media paintings bring to mind the potential that time and memories have to shift in and out of focus as she repeatedly re-enters her lineage as a third-generation Chicana, peering from the inside out to understand her present context of post-colonialism and capitalism. She begins this process with traditionally-sourced materials from indigenous artists and artisans she studied with in Teotitlán del Valle and Mexico City, Mexico, and follows in the footsteps of Huichol yarn artists. 

In Calle de Empedradores, different forms of architecture look on from the background like wedding guests. Rock formations and modern structures alike—they all share in the moment’s elation. It’s a kind of Arnolfini Wedding Portrait (complete with a faithful companion standing by) only these figures aren’t propped up front, surrounded by a hodgepodge of good-luck charms. Instead, the moment is entirely theirs, not the witness’. The composition seems to originate and come forth from the figures. Their dressings and the woman’s hair pour into the bottom half of the painting, and her organic blocks of color fit next to his angular pattern to speak of an ever-broadening culture to come. In one of the most striking areas to me, the black yarn from her hair begins a more vertical criss-cross pattern, as if it is trying to establish a hold on the moment that so poignantly already feels like a memory, with the cold blue darkness creeping in from the bottom right. The suddenly straight hanging strings that extend off of the piece repeat as a theme in Eche’s weavings that speaks of time resolutely moving forward. 

Identidad presents us with a version of time as a two-way mirror standing between a frontal and recessed identity. The fabric cramps and wears somewhat muted shades of purple, an “in-between” tertiary color. At the same time, this violet is a historically rare pigment initially reserved for depictions of royalty. The anthropomorphic tapestry seems to be unfamiliar with how to hang on a wall, and perhaps means to present itself in an entirely different context. On side “A” the blips of cream-colored stitches reach out from beyond the surface in moments of varying strength. If we’re looking at the weaving as a timeline in downward direction, the past is piled up at the top margin and scrambled out of place, while the present is bumpy and pivots direction. The future is unfailingly straight, bound by the laws of gravity. On side “B” a different story is told; one where these “blip” moments speak to one another, race to catch up to the future in stewardship, and help to comb-out the past.

In This Land is Not Your Land, the viewer might wonder to whom Eche is speaking. Is this a firm reclaiming of a rightful home, or a grief-filled offering of comfort and reconciliation for those with lost histories and place? Either way, the solitary patch of green seems to be the subject of this debate and affection. Interestingly, the area around the green island is not blue, as one might expect, but a desert ochre instead. Similar to the many overlooked cultures existing outside of “dominant” metropolises, deserts are often conflated with nothingness despite their lively ecosystems. The red segment below feels like a break from this whole system of forgetting, where for a brief moment we can see through the facade, in between the fibers, and get comfortable in its slower pace until the system quickly revives itself. The knotted ends at the top and bottom are felt abruptly as artificial markers of a moment’s beginning and end. We know that time and history don’t work that way, that surgically, and that the conversation started by this tear will reappear within a continuous timeline.  

Eche has created a body for time that has labored hand-marks and is fluid even when it is held together by a formulaic grid pattern. While weaving these moments in her studio, she thinks of Donna Haraway’s description from Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Experimental Futures), “I try to follow the threads where they lead, in order to track them, and find their tangles and patterns, crucial for staying with the trouble in real and particular places and times.”

About the writer: Jenn Cacciola is a NY and CT based multimedia artist. She received a Bachelor of Science in Visual Arts from SUNY Purchase in 2015 with minors in Chemistry and Art History. She has been awarded Artist-in-Residence positions at Manassas National Battlefield Park, the Sheen Center For Thought & Culture, and virtual residencies with Socially Distant Art, Cel del Nord, and World of Co. She engages in curation and community building among artists as a co-curator of Openings Artist Collective. Her work can be found at and on Instagram at @jenncacciolastudio

About the artist: Stephanie Eche is a Chicana artist based in Brooklyn, NY and originally from Phoenix, Arizona. Her work has been exhibited in galleries in New York, New Mexico, California, and Arizona. She has been a teaching artist for the Center for Urban Pedagogy, the SU-CASA program in Lower Manhattan, Root Division, and the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts in San Francisco, CA. She was a Creative Community Fellow with National Arts Strategies and Healthy Places Network Leader for Urban Land Institute.  Stephanie is the founder and CEO of Distill Creative, an art agency that connects artists and businesses, and the creator of the First Coat podcast about art in public space. Her work can be found at and you can follow her on instagram @stephanie_eche