Questions and Answers: Interview with Bryana Bibbs

Anela Gallegos, the Colby Museum’s Howard A. and Gisele B. Miller Curatorial Intern for Summer 2022, interviews artist Bryana Bibbs, Summer 2022 Lunder Institute for American Art Residential Fellow. 

1. I would love to start with hearing a little bit about your background as an artist and your current practice.

I am a textile artist and arts educator based in Chicago, Illinois. My arts practice uses textures, fibers, materials, and color to tell stories about my personal life. Whether its daily documentation through works like my Journal Series or larger works such as After (2022) my work has a lot to do with my day-to-day experiences and reflections on the past.

Bryana Bibbs, After, 2022. Handwoven paper, sharpie, and cotton, 70 x 404 in. (177.8 x 1026.16cm). Photograph by Ren Picco-Freeman.

2. How did you feel entering the Greene Block studio space, and how did you approach setting up the new studio space? What does a day in your studio look like?

I was really overwhelmed with how large the studio was when I first walked in. My studio back in Chicago is roughly 322 sq. So, to walk into a space that is almost 3 times the size of my space, my initial reaction was “how am I going to fill up this space in 6 weeks?”

But as time went on, I realized I was able to do that because I had brought works from a few other exhibitions that I needed to pick up during my drive from Chicago to Maine.

Bryana Bibbs discussing her artwork at her Greene Block studio with other LIAA summer residential fellows, staff, and student interns from the Colby Museum of Art. Photograph by Rebecca Sun ’25.

June 17th was my first day of my fellowship and I knew right away I wanted to work on a large piece. So I went to Home Depot, bought some 2x4s, screws, nails, and started to build a large frame loom. I had brought along my spinning wheel and drum carder from my studio back in Chicago to create the material to use for this larger scale weaving. And because the size of it was around 6’ x 6’ I knew that this would be a challenge to complete in the time that I had at Greene Block. Which meant that I knew very early on that I would have to spend long nights into the early mornings in the studio working. Most nights I didn’t get home until 6am or 7am although I had maybe started my day at the studio at 1 or 2pm. But working this way, especially when there’s a deadline, is really exciting to me.

Bryana Bibbs working on Alone Against It All in her Greene Block studio. Photograph by Ben Wheeler.

3. On your website you write, “My work is based on my love for journaling and my struggles with mental health, acceptance, relationships, and other personal matters,” – would you mind sharing more about your journaling processes and how it factors into your practice as an artist?

I used to journal all the time during my childhood and into my late teens, but because of certain life situations I didn’t do it for some time unless I had time to myself. So, for a lot of my work I look at as visual journals or visual chapters that are documenting certain times in my life.

4. I noticed you studied abroad in India. Do you incorporate or draw any influence from your time abroad, such as Indian weaving techniques?

India was very inspiring for me; I miss it every day! Going to a lot of textile factories and seeing how people work to create this incredibly intricate textiles was most exciting for me.

That trip also made me think more about the use of color and materials in my work. Especially since we had visited so many factories that dye, block-print, and weave textiles. Seeing the process from start to finish, really made me think about how that’s often something that people don’t understand when it comes to something that is so accessible to all of us; we use and were textiles everyday but most people don’t understand how it’s made. Which is why during open studios, I love talking to people about processes I use because hopefully then there will be more awareness around the labor of how textiles are created.

Bryana Bibbs, Alone Against It All (close up of work in progress), 2022. Needle felting, handwoven hand-spun wool, alpaca fleece, angelina fiber, and recycled sari silk. 66 x 66 in. (167.6 x 167.6 cm). Photograph by Rebecca Sun ’25.

5. I read about the We Were Never Alone Project – arising out of your own experience with domestic violence and the increased rates during COVID isolation, this project must have had a major impact for those participating and yourself. If you are willing to share, what are some of the outcomes and future goals of this project for you (and perhaps the others who have participated)?

The We Were Never Alone Project came about during a time when I realized that other people were going through the same thing I was going through. And although it took some time for me to get to the point of realizing that, I really wanted to create a space for people to come together to have discussions, make art, and hopefully assist with their healing process.

Lately, I’ve had to take a step back from it due to other things happening in my life currently. But there’s not a day I don’t think about it. And what’s most important for me with the project is not only creating a community of people to come together, but making sure that the spaces in which these workshops are held are in spaces that welcome these kinds of discussions. I want people to feel comfortable. The overall outcome of the workshops has mostly been people realizing we were never alone despite how different everyone’s backgrounds are. Some people have even started creating art again because of these workshops. I am always amazed and grateful for the people that come and trust in me and my process of creating these workshops.

6. Considering the influence of your work, the We Were Never Alone Project, and the role of journaling in your practice, I get the impression that your art functions as an outlet – a means of creating and healing. How would you describe the intention of your work?

My practice is an outlet and a way to get out everything that I’m feeling in that moment. Although a lot of my larger work is conceptual, my smaller works are much more intuitive which I think is a great balance for me for have both. For those that view my work, I always want them to have their own experience and relationship with the work, even if they understand my personal experiences or not. I’ve gone through way too many rules in my life, and my arts practice is the only time I can throw all of that away.

Bryana Bibbs, Alone Against It All, 2022. Needle felting, handwoven hand-spun wool, alpaca fleece, angelina fiber, and recycled sari silk. 66 x 66 in. (167.6 x 167.6 cm). Courtesy of the Artist.

Bryana Bibbs is a Chicago-based textile artist, painter, and art educator who earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts with an emphasis in Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work comes from her struggles with depression, anxiety, relationships, self-validation, and how to deal with everyday occurrences. She is the founder of The We Were Never Alone Project – A Weaving Workshop for Victims and Survivors of Domestic Violence, a 2021–2022 Chicago Artist Coalition HATCH Residency Artist, and serves on the Surface Design Association’s Education Committee. Bibbs’ work has been on view at The Evanston Art Center (Evanston, Illinois), ARC Gallery (Chicago, Illinois), The Bridgeport Art Center (Chicago, Illinois), The Wayback (Chicago, Illinois), Room482 (Brooklyn, New York), Chicago Artists Coalition (Chicago, Illinois), and The Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago, Illinois).