Chloé Bensahel is a textile artist who blends performance, traditional craft and multimedia to create large-scale installations that highlight the relationship between language and identity. Inspired by her own family history of migration, Chloé’s work investigates how narration and material traditions create a collective culture.
Her work has been exhibited at France’s National Tapestry Workshop (Mobilier National, Paris), the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the Australian Tapestry Workshop (Melbourne). Chloé was recently awarded the inaugural Google Jacquard residency (2019) and the Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship (2020). She lives and works between Paris and Washington D.C.
Favorite place to visit in France, and why?
The Mediterranean – there’s something special about that body of water, birthplace of civilizations across time.
Favorite place to visit in America, and why?
The Bay Area, when the fog rolls over the mountains and flows into the bay.
What do you think the French can learn from Americans?
Not being afraid of failing, and that the best part of history isn’t necessarily behind us.
What do you think Americans can learn from the French?
That history is important, even when it’s painful. Vacation: It’s OK to do nothing.
Favorite French film?
Peau d’Ane and 8 femmes – I’m a sucker for music and magic.
Favorite American film?
The Matrix – deeply prophetic!
Favorite French actor or actress?
Isabelle Huppert is timeless, and Sabrina Ouazani because I never saw anyone on screen like me until her.
Favorite American actor or actress?
Logan Browning in Dear White People is fantastic.
Most important French figure in history and why?
This feels like a trick question, because history is written by the victor. There are histories I may not know about because those stories are either silenced or hidden away. We are seeing the repercussions of this happening around the world. I believe in local histories, and in my local history the most important person is my grandfather, Henri Bensahel, a Moroccan surgeon who fought to be in France and to be accepted as a citizen. He makes me believe that good things can also come out of struggle.
Most influential American figure and why?
Sheila Hicks. A student of Anni Albers at Yale, she revolutionized the field of textile art. I wouldn’t be able to do the work I do today without her.
What is your favorite American luxury?
All of the national museums are free!
What is your favorite French extravagance?
High speed trains – they’ll take you anywhere.
Favorite American food?
Favorite French food?
Cheese – there’s a pattern.
The quality you most admire about the French and Americans?
French: A commitment to excellence, and an incredible cultural capital.
Americans: A capacity to innovate, immense courage, and a willingness to go out of bounds.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My collaboration with Google Jacquard, Google Arts and Culture, and the Mobilier National (Tapestry Workshop) in Paris. A combination of traditional craft and new technologies with the intervention of Pulitzer-prize winning Caroline Shaw. It was a true privilege to work with so many people who are so good at what they do.
Which talent would you most like to have?
Song. I wish I could sing/compose/make music. I plan on compensating by working with as many composers and musicians as I can in my lifetime. Textiles are connected to music, as songs have long accompanied textile labor.
Name three people, dead or alive, who you would most like to have dinner with?
Franz Fanon, Rabbi Marc-Alain Ouaknin, and Beyonce.
Relative to your field of study, what is the most important tradition to keep alive?
I work in what most would consider a dying field: hand-made textiles. Institutions like Le Mobilier National, in Paris, are incredibly important in keeping French craft traditions alive. Losing craft tradition means losing access to slowing down, sensing, touching, being in one’s body. Material intelligence is as important as artificial intelligence, even if I don’t see them as opposing forces. I believe they can work together.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A day of weaving followed by an evening with my loved ones.