Mai Tabakian’s creations appear to be hybrids. Although they cannot exactly be described as paintings, they look like pictures. At the same time, the striking presence of matter, volume and structure immediately gives them a sculptural, or even architectural, dimension. So, they are hybrids mainly because of the use of fabric as the main medium in Mai Tabakian’s work. However, in this case, we are not dealing with embroidery, tapestry work or appropriation per se because fabric is used for what it is: material, colour and texture. Mai Tabakian’s work might have things in common with a kind of textile marquetry: fabric is embossed on round parts of extruded polystyrene.
The artist does not use fabric as a material to be sewn or to be pieced together around a body, even a fictitious one, but really as a pictorial medium whereby colours, textures and motifs might have things in common with the painter’s palette. To her, fabric is highly rich on plastic, chromatic and textural levels as well as in its peculiar and sensual relation to the sense of touch that is often disregarded in plastic creation. Mai Tabakian’s works, their layers, their lines, full and round, and their curves irresistibly prompt us to sense its intimate geography with our fingertips.
Beyond this formal interest, Mai Tabakian’s choice to use fabric is reminiscent of an underlying personal story related to this material. Because if her work immediately refers to the concept of needlework, this activity reminds her of her childhood’s universe: on one hand, her maternal grandmother who used to sew and introduced her to it at an early age and on the other hand, her travels to Vietnam, her native country, where, as a young girl, she was fascinated by the abundance of coloured fabrics, shimmering clothes or silk. It reminds us of the link that some artists like Louise Bourgeois or Annette Messager might have with fabric as a vehicle for women’s stories and the handing on of femininity but also for childhood memories and its evocations, often bringing us back to the transitional object. But where either of these artists tends towards a sort of expressionism rooted in introspection and memory, Mai Tabakian has chosen to create abstract compositions of shapes, which are sometimes organic, sometimes more geometric, sometimes similar to parabolas. But choosing this quilted rendering, like a cocoon or a protective receptacle could let come to light a lot of hypotheses while suggesting a way to prevent yourself from revealing too much.
So, beneath formal abstract appearances, we are guessing an existential depth, a rising emotion, complex stories and reminiscences that do not allow to be revealed at a glance, a glance too busy getting lost in the maze and the twists and turns of motifs created by appliqué.
In spite of colours that are shimmering, bright or soft, glittery or pastel, Mai Tabakian’s works must hide more frightening or painful realities, feelings or thoughts, evoking a kind of struggle against cruelty about which we don’t know everything.