Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Are you a 'Craftivist'?

Quilters have long used their work as a way to express what they were seeing in the culture around them.  Sometimes this was simply 'daily life'...but often it was the course of social and political events. 

This is eloquently expressed by SAQA Artist Member Dr. Carolyn L. Mazloomi in the introduction to Part VII of the documentary series, Why Quilts Matter.

Dr. Mazloomi is the founder of the African-American Quilt Guild of Los Angeles and the Women of Color Quilter's Network, and an art quilter whose work is exhibited internationally.

While the above-mentioned episode begins with a very American focus, women from all countries with a needlework and/or quilting tradition have long used their art to send important messages about their culture, their political views, and the history going on around them.

Perhaps it is typical of the 21st century that a label has now been created for this form of expression, resistance, and empowerment through craft.

Betsy Greer, in "Craftivism" (Encyclopedia of Activism and Social Justice. 2007. SAGE Publications) defines the term 'craftivism' this way:

Craftivism is a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper & your quest for justice more infinite.
Craftivism is the practice of engaged creativity, especially regarding political or social causes. By using their creative energy to help make the world a better place, craftivists help bring about positive change via personalized activism. Craftivism allows practitioners to customize their particular skills to address particular causes.

Starting in 2016, SAQA member, quilter and embroiderer Jeanne Hewell-Chambers of North Carolina has stirred individuals and groups internationally to make blocks for her 70273 Project which commemorates the murder of 70,273 physically and mentally disabled people by the Nazis, during the period from January 1940 through August, 1941.  (Yours truly wrote about her contribution to the project HERE.) 

Yours truly working on
an SJSA block
Also in 2016, a group of artists took what began as a summer program in California, to a workshop in Chicago, and east to Massachusetts and created the Social Justice Sewing Academy.  The staff and volunteers of the Academy work with youth through schools, workshops and community organizations to teach them how to express their thoughts and ideas about social issues, social justice and cultural changes -- using textiles as their medium.  Quilt blocks are being made that use largely free-form cutting and pasting -- and volunteers are recruited to embroider and embellish the blocks -- receiving a batch, doing the stitching, and returning the finished blocks by mail.

Logo - the Pussy Hat Project

And it comes as no surprise that especially in the past year, with the shifts and upheavals in the political climate and culture globally, quilters and needle-workers have picked up their needles and hooks, have taken to their sewing machines...and expressed themselves in their work.

The rush to make "pussy hats" last January for the Women's March on Washington, D.C. -- which became an international event -- seemed to kick this off -- and that alone has become a global project in and of itself! 

Then there's the Threads of Resistance project, founded by a group of SAQA artists who call themselves The Artist Circle Alliance.    Hundreds of quilters answered the Call for Entry into this exhibit -- and so all were considered so worthwhile that even though only about 25% of the submissions were selected for the Travelling Exhibit, all were categorized according to subject matter and are shown online HERE.

Which brings me to the most recent news I've received about 'Craftivism' -- practiced by SAQA Western Canada's Gloria Daly and B.C. Rep, Jennie Johnston.

Some months ago, SAQA put out a Call for Entry to a juried exhibit entitled "Loaded Conversations" -- about guns and gun violence.  Thirty-three artists have been selected for the touring exhibit, of whom one is from the UK, one from Switzerland, and one from Canada.  Gloria is that one...with her piece, Reclaim Reload Rejoice The Perfect Game 2 at low 8.  The exhibit will open at the  San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles, San Jose, California, in April 2018.

(Gloria, if you're reading this, I'd love you to email me a photo to share here.  Thanks!)

Eleanor Roosevelt with the Spanish version of
the UDHR
Photo courtesy Wikipedia
Meanwhile, Jennie answered a Call for Entry she found on Instagram -- to interpret a portion of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was first created by the United Nations in 1948.  A year from now will mark the 70th anniversary of its enactment.

Like the "Threads of Resistance", the original call for thirty artists was overwhelmed by the submissions -- and their quality -- so now four quilts of thirty blocks will be made.

Jennie was one of the artists chosen to be interviewed by the publication Bust about the project -- and you can read the full article HERE.  

I managed to catch up with Jennie just long enough to get her to send me a photo of her piece...

In addition to the information she provided in the magazine interview, Jennie has documented her progress with this piece in a series of three blog posts, which you can read by clicking the links below:

I realize that not everyone is called to practice 'craftivism' on an ongoing basis.  I, for one, admit that for me, to do so would require I remain in a state of high anxiety much of the time!

That said, sometimes an issue (or two or three) speaks to the heart, mind and soul of an artist...and something must be said -- and done -- to bring it from the inside out into the world.  With all that's out there -- from horrific illness, to racial injustice, gender inequality, political instability, sexual harassment, terrorism and government corruption -- well, there's a great deal to choose from about which to make a statement, loudly...or more fabric and stitch.

Congratulations to Gloria and Jennie on the recognition of their recent work in the realm of craftivism.

Will we see more from our members in 2018?


On a different the midst of all the holiday preparations and celebrations at this time of year, thank you for your readership and your help in writing the posts for this Regional blog.  I can't share the news with your colleagues unless you share it with me! 

And now...I want to share with you best wishes for the holiday season and a healthy, happy, creative New Year!
-- Margaret Blank, Blog Editor


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