A few months ago, the internet was buzzing with the news of a performance piece in Australia that featured the self-proclaimed “performer-craftivist” Casey Jenkins engaging in what got dubbed “vaginal knitting.”
For an explanation and look at the performance, watch this short video:
In the video, Jenkins said the piece, titled Casting Off My Womb, was about assessing and being intimate with her own body.
“The expectation when you’re showing the vulva is that people are going to feel feelings of fear and repulsion. So by linking the vulva with something that people do find warm and fuzzy and benign, and even boring, you know, just knitting over long period of time, I hope that people question the fears and negative associations they have with the vulva,” she said.
Her expectations were right. The clip above went viral, and reactions were so negative, Jenkins was compelled to defend her work in The Guardian.
“The response to the clip was immediate, massive and, for the most part, negative, marked with fear and repulsion. The word “ick” features heavily, as do “eww”, “gross” and “whyyyy?”. Exclamation points are afforded entire comment boxes, broken only by the odd question mark. Everything comes in for criticism; the menstrual blood used in the work probably cops the most, but viewers have taken swipes at my hair-cut, my eyebrows, my skin, my home-city, my choice of words, my knitting technique and the colour of my shirt,” she wrote. Click here to read her full response.
The piece caught so much attention, no doubt, for its use of the vulva, but it is one of many examples of feminists using yarn and other crafting supplies to create political and often controversial art.
Toronto artist Allyson Mitchell has worked with a variety of textiles, yarn, felt and other materials to engage with everything from queer theory, to menstruation, to psychoanalysis, to Pride industries, and more. To check out some of her projects, visit: www.allysonmitchell.com
Mitchell has also used these materials to create beautiful and intricate banners that appeared in Craft Pride Procession. Check it out here: http://craftprideprocession.blogspot.ca/
These two banners were part of the CAN’T/WON’T series by Mitchell and Deidre Logue that included a total of four banners boasting the phrases: WE CAN’T COMPETE, WE WON’T COMPETE, WE CAN’T KEEP UP, WE WON’T KEEP DOWN. Mitchell and Logue included this description with their work:
“Due to the following circumstances [list umpteen statistics about how gender/”race” and class operate in the art world] we propose these slogans and ask the following questions: “Why would you want to be a winner in this hierarchal structure?” and “How do we both resist and reconcile our participation in this oppressive system?”
CAN’T/WON’T is an acknowledgement of the dilemmas of feminist and queer cultural participation.
We can’t compete so we won’t compete. Instead we will: collaborate, nurture, cultivate, feed, enable”
(Source: Access Gallery)
Mitchell says the banners were created by finding or making crochet squares and sewing them all together. The letters were designed and made from felt, then stitched onto the banner.
Art like Jenkins’ and Mitchell’s can be understood in the broader context of craftivism — a phenomenon that embraces creativity as a way to confront social injustice, reclaims skills lost to modernity, and plays on stereotypes of femininity.
According to Craftivism.com and the Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice: “The term craftivism surfaced in the first few years of the 21st century and gained an online presence with the website Craftivism.com in 2003 to promote the symbiotic relationship between craft and activism. After craft skills such as knitting regained popularity, the idea emerged that instead of using solely one’s voice to advocate political viewpoints, one could use their creativity.”
Though craftivism is a relatively new term, craft artists and activists have a long history of combining their passions all around the world. Check out these links for more on the history of craftivism, and images and ideas of craftivist projects:
This post written by: Andi
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