Now Reading
A Tell-All Conversation with Embroidery Artist Alexandria C. Deters

A Tell-All Conversation with Embroidery Artist Alexandria C. Deters

Avatar photo
Alexandria C. Deters. Self-portrait (draft image as part of “R.R.R.” series) photographed with an iPhone14. Courtesy of the artist.

Alexandria C. Deters’s work is rooted in embroidery and the physical act of stitching. As she often brings her work with her, Alexandria’s studio is wherever she is headed. If you follow her on Instagram, you can usually see snippets of her sewing on the subway or while listening to documentaries. Although she gives the best ‘what to watch’ recommendations, Alexandria is more than just an avid fan of documentaries. Watching these specific documentaries as she works is a key part of her artistic process and serves as a basis for further archival, digital, and interview-based research into historical and current social topics, such as female cult leaders, 9/11, the Playboy universe, organized crime in New York during the second World War, and her own recent dating experience following a break-up. For Alexandria, the tactile nature of her work and the intense focus it takes to sew and stitch material together is both meditative and healing.

Since our last interview, in 2019, a lot has changed. Considering only 2024, Deters has briefly departed from textiles to finish a new portrait series of photographs and video works, (R.R.R. (Rebirth Revivification Revival). She created her first site-specific work for The Golden Thread: A Fiber Art Exhibition, organized by BravinLee Projects, featuring more than 100 fiber works on view at the South Street Seaport through Sunday, May 19th, and has exhibited at Every Woman Biennial and the Outsider Art Fair. A writer in her own right, for Cultbytes among others, I took the time to have an in-depth conversation with Deters to dig deeper into her new projects, to give audiences the oppotunity to overview her vast practice and further understand the core focal points of her work: witnessing and locating. or observing, the personal as she embroiders the experiences of others.

“My work ultimately connects, through a thread of connection through me. Everything I create comes from what I’m interested and drawn to, witnessed, or experienced.”

-Alexandria C, Deters

Embroidery is an unusual medium, atleast in contemporary art, your use of it is nearly painterly with loose mark-making and variations in expression—it is also extremely laborious. How did you come to work with it?  

For me, it is the tactical process of touching something and bringin an idea into the physical form that is attractive. I have never been a painter and my drawing skills I admit are not the strongest, but stitching I seem to be able to create the visuals I have in my head more clearly. I also have ADHD and that is something I have learned how to navigate since high school. The act of embroidery, of forcing myself to sit down and focus on one thing, is the closest I feel to meditating. I slow down and take the time to pick the colors for the thread used, and the fabric, draw a rough outline in a fabric pen, decide on the stitch, pull out the stitch, revise, and think of the shape and form of what I’m trying to create. At the same time I am watching/listening to documentaries usually relating to whatever I am embroidering in some way, the entire process helps me to disconnect and fall into the work, putting all my energy and thoughts in one place. 

Also, it is this very personal element to me, the literal thread into what I’m embroidering on, whether it be pages from old magazines or fabric.  I feel like I am ‘threading’ a bit of myself into the piece. That is why I also am very aware of how I am feeling when I am working. Because for me certain works need to be created with a certain mindset, reverence, and respect for the subject I am focusing on. 

Alexandria Deters
Alexandria C. Deters. ”Operation Underworld (Collaboration Fighting Fascism),” 2024. Embroidery, thread, silk, found fabric, pillowcase, on images based on mug-shots: Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano (1931), Meyer ‘Mob’s Accountant’ Lansky (1949), Joseph A. ‘Socks’ Lanza (1937). 11 x 27 inches (11 x 9 inches individual). Photographed by John Lee. Courtesy of the artist’s Instagram..

Your work addresses tough subjects and tragedies including the aftermath of 9/11, sexual scandals, cults and so much more. I know you watch a lot of documentaries. Can you speak a little bit more about these ongoing series such as False Prophets and Gonzalez: Yes Dear, I’m here?

Most of my work and practice deals with difficult topics, often traumatic topics, and for whatever I am working on I do watch a lot of documentaries about that subject as you mentioned, and I also read whatever I can about that subject as well. For works such as False Prophets and Gonzalez: Yes Dear, I’m here, I knew I had to be very well-versed on the subjects that those works deal with so that people who have been affected, traumatized, and lived through those experiences know that the work comes from a sincere place. 

I consider myself a ‘witness’ for others, the idea that I can listen and hear other people’s experiences, memories, and often traumas; and dig through history, forgotten and overlooked moments and people and create work that speaks for those experiences and people. This comes from my years of interviewing others, working with different communities, and my trauma and difficult experiences. I hope that with the works I create, I can help others feel seen, heard, and understood; and ultimately with some of my more heavy subject matter works, assist those who have been traumatized and no longer feel the burden of having to tell their story (if they do not want to) and help people that have no frame of reference personally understand emphasize. 

It sounds lofty and heavy and in a way it is. But for me creating art is not a choice, it is a need, and it is my ultimate purpose. I don’t expect everyone to enjoy or like my work, or even understand what I am trying to do. However, when someone comes up to me and tells me they understand what I am making or my work makes them feel recognized, even validated, it reminds me why I share my work with others. My community and chosen family are a constant source of strength and inspiration, and it is because of their support that I have been able to be the artist I am today and continue to grow and evolve into being. 

I feel lucky that people have been able to connect with work, which ultimately means people on some level have been able to connect and understand me, even if it’s only in a small way. Because everyone on some level want to feel seen and understood?

Alexandria C. Deters. “Dorothy has been living in….a Hollywood fairy tale (June 1980),” 2019-2021. Embroidery, found fabric, thread, on an image based on the Playboy June 1980 cover in a fake gold gilded frame. 20 x 16 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

For my series False Prophets,(2022-Present) I am looking into the histories and legacies of religions/cults and the people that take advantage of others through the beliefs they have created or manipulated in some way. In particular, I am looking at women who have led or are second in command of various groups. Each woman selected I have extensively researched, and before selecting them for this series I make sure I have at least three primary sources about them, their group, and often their crimes  (whether purely moral or legal). I was first pushed into the creation of this series because I was fascinated with cults and religion, taking everything I could get my hands on. My former partner asked what I was going to do with all this information and I thought I was going to create some sort of series with it,

Alexandria C. Deters. “June 1980 (Playmate of the Year),” 2019-2022. Embroidery, fabric, and thread on an image based on the cover of Playboy June 1980 in a fake gold gilded frame. 10 x 13 in. Courtesy of the artist.

I began to wonder how many women had led groups through their charisma to ultimately negative ends, I thought there would only be a handful but the more I researched the more I discovered. From all parts of the world and dating from the 1700s to the present day. Some of these women/groups are still active which is also one of the reasons I wanted to make sure I had reached them thoroughly before including them in the series. I am not religious, but there is nothing wrong or bad in finding hope, solace, strength, and community through alternative beliefs and different understandings of established religions. What I find reprehensible is anyone who uses the power they have, and the beliefs others have in them to manipulate, take advantage of, and harm (physically and/or emotionally) others. I think people overlook women who do this rather than people think of Jim Jones or David Koresh, and I wanted to highlight women because of this and expose the crimes and hurt that they have caused and continue to. To show that anyone can be a cult leader, man or woman.

Alexandria C. Deters. “Lucille Poulin (False Prophet),” 2023-2024. Embroidery, fake ribbon, button, lace, fabric and found fabric from Wassaic Project 2023 in a fake gilded frame. 16 x 20 in. Courtesy of the artist.

My ongoing work  Gonzalez: ‘Yes dear I’m here.’ (A Primary Document, 9/11), 2021-Present (ongoing), is work I started after interviewing my friend, the late amazing artist Hunter Reynolds(1959-2022) about his 9/11 experience for the Visual AIDS blog for the 20th Anniversary. He was a long-term HIV/AIDS survivor but also had cancer, partially from the 9/11 dust. When interviewing him I realized there was still so much about that day I didn’t understand and know, and when I found out that cancer from the dust was not covered and paid for until the activism of individuals like Jon Stewart I was filled with dismay, rage and the new need to make the now available funds for cancer and other ailments from that fateful day to survivors known to everyone. I wanted to create a work that recognized the awe and horror of that day without putting in any political motivations/undercurrents, dispel any conspiracy theories, and also recognize the everyday heroism of normal individuals. 

What I decided on was embroidering the entire 83-page audio transcript of the FAA and NORAD Response to 9/11, published by the Rutgers Law Review in 2011. The transcript is time-stamped and for me encompasses how many moving parts and people were a part of the initial attack and also the true horror of the event. While embroidering the work I am constantly reading and watching documentaries about 9/11 and the after effects. If I ever feel a bit desensitized I take a break because I never want to not be…upset or aware of the words I am embroidering. It’s a multilayered work that I am still working on creating. After Hunter passed away in June 2022, I needed to take a break from the series to process his death, as well as a break from working on very heavy and serious work. There is a video part element that includes different timelapse videos of me embroidering the work in different places on a loop, and to the right of that video is the transcript with the audio playing. 

For me the words, hearing them, and seeing them embroidered cements the impact of these moments and exchanges in a physical way. Ultimately after finishing the transcript, I plan on going to Pennsylvania where United 93 crashed, and embroidering the audio transcript from the cockpit black box recorder. My hope is for the work to eventually go to an institution. I consider this the most difficult and most important work I will probably ever create and I am actively resuming this work this summer.

Alexandra Deters
Alexandria C. Deters with her works presented by Bill Arning at the Outsider Art Fair. Photographed by Scott Lynch. Courtesy of Gothamist.

Earlier this year your work was on view at Every Woman Biennial and the Outsider Art Fair and you worked with artist Anna Parisi with a new video work. Now you are part The Golden Thread: A Fiber Art Exhibition (which opened on April 26 and has been extended through May 19th).  To say there has been a lot of activity in 2024 would be an understatement. What has it been like to pivot between these different fairs and projects? 

It is always so exciting to be part of different types of projects and exhibition spaces! For me, the biggest thing for me is to space out what I am focusing on so that I can give enough time to each project. Most of my practice involves researching heavily the topics that I am embroidering and focusing on and making sure I have fully researched a subject thoroughly enough to my standards. That is what takes the most time I’ve discovered. In these three particular shows however, there were multiple factors; balancing time, having submitted my work for the Every Woman Biennial in 2023, and being asked to participate in The Golden Thread after the Outsider Art Fair (OAF) had closed. At the beginning of 2024, I was able to focus on finishing new works for the Outsider Art Fair presented by Bill Arning Exhibitions before it opened on Thursday, February 29. I was also excited to show my latest False Prophets that I had completed as well as three new works that I created during my Summer Artist Residency at Wassaic Project in July 2023, one of my flags, How the Middle Class was Destroyed, 2023 reflecting on Reaganomics, It never fades (Emotional Scarring, version 1), my first woodwork piece, and l’amour de Dieu, 2023, quote from the the French philosopher/writer Voltaire reflecting on the extremeness of religious belief.

Alexandria C. Deters. “How the Middle Class Was Destroyed”, 2023. Embroidery, thread, found USA flag, red silk, and fabric gifted from Anna Mikaela Ekstrand. 60 x 40 in. Courtesy of the artist.

The most challenging show to prepare for was creating a work for The Golden Thread: A Fiber Art Exhibition, in which I was commissioned to create my first site-specific work. Unlike other site-specific works that focus on incorporating/installing their piece into the physical space, my work focused on the history of the location. I was asked to participate in the exhibition in early March 2024  and during that month I researched the history of the Seaport area where the show is taking place. In April after deciding what I would focus on (a fascinating history of the U.S. government recruiting Italian and Jewish organized crime leaders in NYC during WWII, Operation Underworld, and later Operation Husky),  I worked on creating the new work, Operation Underworld (Collaboration Fighting Fascism), 2024 during the weekends, after work, and during any spare moment I had available. I’ll admit I had to work fast to finish in time, and completed the work on Saturday, April 20, and dropped it off to the wonderful curating husband/wife duo Karin Bravin and John Lee on Sunday, April 21! 

Alexandria C. Deters. “August 17, 1962 (Martyr),” 2024. From the series “Traitors and Martyrs.” Courtesy of the artist.

Can we talk a little about your new self-portrait series? This is a definite departure from your embroidery work. What has it been like to work with a new medium?

Thank you for asking! My portrait series, R.R.R. (Rebirth Revivification Revival), 2023-Present, has been a very liberating experience. It was inspired after completing my performance/video series ‘2386’, a work that is about coming to terms with the ending of a long-term relationship I was in and letting go of the negative narrative and value I believed I had through it. It was very vulnerable work to make especially because I do not consider myself a videographer or photographer, and I never imagined I would make performance work in my practice. I have collaborated on a video and performance work, Caught in the Act, 2020, with the amazingly talented artist Anna Parisi. I am so proud of that work and am still very honored that Anna asked me to be a part of her vision. I think because of my involvement with that work I eventually feel comfortable to make 2386, and not currently R.R.R. That work is currently on view in the two-person exhibition Le’Andra LeSeur and Anna Parisi: Bearing Witness at the Visual Arts Center of NJ through May 24, 2024.

After the cathartic experience of creating 2386, I wanted to project the confidence I was beginning to rebuild within myself and the standards I want to maintain while now being in the dating world again. Such as no longer accepting the bare minimum from a potential romantic partner, and not letting someone view you as just an object, a body’, but a person to be respected with subjecthood. In the last year of dating, I have realized a few things about myself mostly that now at 32 years old there are things I no longer want to accept in a relationship and the ability to believe in myself. To do this I have been creating self-portrait works on my iPhone, often looking intently at the camera and sensual in tone, with phrases overlaying my image. For me it is like creating a mantra one says to yourself and making it visible for others to use as well. Each phrase has a set of images I have created, as well as a song that for me encapsulates my feelings of myself and the tone of the image/idea. Visual art and music, and how the two interact, evoking certain memories and ideas is something I have been very interested in when creating these self-portrait images and videos. 

Alexandria C. Deters.
Alexandria C. Deters. “She no longer accepts the bare minimum,” 2024. Self-portrait overlaid with lyrics from Dance Gavin Dance’s Evaporate (2018) as part of the series “R.R.R.” shot on an iPhone 14. Courtesy of the artist.

This exploring of myself and reflecting on my dating experiences has led me to some lighter work. I started to think of certain phrases, ideas, and statements written/spoken to me that I have encountered over the last year.  I have found that embroidering them on clothes has been a fun endeavor and acts as a nice balance from focusing on the usual dark and serious subject matters I tend to be drawn to in my practice. I do not consider these works ‘fashion’, instead I see them as performances of unspoken feelings I’ve had or remarks spoken/written to me made visible for everyone to see.

What else is coming down the pipeline?

I will have some new works in The Locker Room’s (Brooklyn, NY) “Dirty Laundry’ opening later this month. I am currently working on those and I am very excited about a work I am creating revolving around the concept of chandelier bidding. After that I will be focusing on finishing new works for ongoing and new bodies of works, such as ‘Traitors & Martyrs’, which is portraits, often including elements from LIFE magazine, of individuals I consider political traitors and martyrs; for example, the convicted, jailed, and recently a former American senior analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency in the United States who spied on behalf of the Cuban government for 17 years,  Ana Montes. I am also working and am focusing on completing my ‘False Prophets’ series of female cult leaders. The series will also accumulate with a book element that will be able to go into all the research and sources I have discovered on each leader. Currently, I have 58 women that fit my criteria of a ‘false prophet’, but I would like to have 60, however, I find more than that the series will continue!  So I will be researching for at least two more leaders as well as embroidering the ones that I have already decided are in my series. 

I have also begun a new series, But I’m still waiting for the Second Coming… which is an extension of my False Prophets series, focusing on the different men throughout history that have claimed to be the messiah/second coming of Christ. I am very excited about this new series and diving into another aspect of my obsession researching different religions/cults and exposing those that take advantage of others. 

One big thing however will be working on the creation of a limited edition artist book of my ‘2386’, 2023 video and performance work; a work about my experience in a previous relationship and coming to terms with the ending of a relationship, the toxic elements, and letting it go. I am currently focusing on a few different written works/contributions for the street art publication/platform I contribute to, UP Magazine, and the online blog Filthy Dreams. Finally, there is a very special biography project I will begin working on with the artist Conrad Ventur. This is a project that will be focusing on the life of a close friend of ours who passed away in 2022. We both finally feel ready to begin this soon-to-be very long journey. 

The Golden Thread: A Fiber Art Exhibition organized by BravinLee Projects, featuring more than 100 fiber works on view at the South Street Seaport through Sunday, May 19th.

You Might Also Like

Who Are Your Filth Elders? A Discussion with Emily Colucci and Alexandria Deters

Weaving Traumatic Legacies and Finding Confidence in the Digital, Erin M. Riley at P·P·O·W

1-54’s African Artists to Watch and Their Hybrid Approaches to Textiles in 2024

What's Your Reaction?
In Love
Not Sure
Scroll To Top