Eliza Squibb, executive director of the Global Alliance to Immunize against AIDS Vaccine Foundation, has taken an unlikely path with her fine arts education. While studying at the Rhode Island School of Design, Squibb became the first artist in residence at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, where she helped researchers develop visual tools in order to analyze cephalopod camouflage. Later, during a summer internship in Peru where she studied textile productio, Squibb noticed that the village’s vibrant prints told stories and had a social impact on the community. Her observation and interest in textiles brought her to Mali through GAIA, where she designed prints that were both eye-catching and informative in order to raise awareness of HPV. She holds a BFA from the RISD.
PBN: How do you make prints that are both conceptually accurate, as well as eye-catching? Could you describe your process?
SQUIBB: Any type of design is a long process. Each time I worked on the pattern, or got someone’s opinion, it needed more revisions. … The best part of this process was being in Mali last summer and hearing from the women liked about the pattern, as well as what they thought I should change. Seeing huge, bright patterns on everyone’s clothing helped me determine what colors were preferable in Mali. …We were overjoyed at how perfect that was, and I included it in the pattern immediately. In 2015, the cloth will be printed with a Malian textile company and distributed through an education campaign. Our goal is to raise cervical cancer screening rates, and gain support for an HPV-vaccination campaign.
PBN: How do these textiles communicate messages and what made you realize their importance in indigenous communities?
SQUIBB: I think you would be hard-pressed to find a textile anywhere in the world without symbolic meaning. Maybe it’s something fundamental about human nature: our need to imbue the objects we create with layers of stories and symbols. Last year, when I was researching textiles in the Peruvian Amazon, I lived in three different indigenous communities and worked teaching sewing lessons. In one group, the Yine Yami, the women wove striking, abstract, geometric patterns that represented the animal kingdom and Yine mythology. … With a high rate of illiteracy among Malian women, using imagery on fabric, something that people really notice, seemed like the best way to get the message out.
PBN: What led you to find this unique intersection of art, science and fashion?
SQUIBB: I feel very lucky in that many interesting opportunities have come my way thanks to the supportive faculty at RISD. I’ve always followed my interests, even if at times they seemed divergent. Studying textiles and then spending the summer collecting plankton may seem like very distinct pursuits – but who knows what bioluminescent textiles we may have in the future? •