St. Pete exhibit hopes to connect with Black women

A new exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg features seven different series from Gio Swaby, a Bahamian-born artist who works in textiles. 

Swaby calls the works ‘Love Letters to Black women’ and says there are three main descriptors when discussing her work- accessibility, collaboration and love. 

"They really are a dedication to the matriarchs of the family as well as to her friends. Each one you see is either a self-portrait or someone who is incredibly close to the artist," stated Katherine Pill, curator of contemporary art at the Museum of Fine Art in St. Petersburg.

The entire exhibition features her incredibly adept hand with a free-motion quilting machine. 

"You’ll see incredibly detailed thread work where she’s really creating portraits using a sewing machine. At first glance, they may seem like drawings but they’re all done with thread," Pill said.

In one series, Swaby shows the back of the canvas, which is unusual because someone who sews or embroiders professionally will not show the back because that’s where you can see the mistakes such as knots or hanging threads.

"Gio really wants to present nuance representation to Black women and that includes the imperfections," Pill explained.  

Two series in the exhibition focus on black hairstyles and the care that goes into Black hair. 

"The series ‘My Hands are Clean’ is really about the racist micro-aggression that Gio was experiencing when she was living in Vancouver," Pill said. "There’s a very small Black population there and she found that people were coming up to her and asking if they could touch her hair. It created a dynamic that put her in the position of having to say no."

For Swaby, it’s incredibly important that these works are seen by a Black audience. 

Pill says, "This work is about making connections with Black women. She wants Black women to feel seen when they’re viewing these artworks."

This exhibit is on display until October 9.

To learn more about the exhibit, visit

This article has been updated to reflect there are seven series in the exhibition, which runs through October 9.