Thursday, November 08, 2007

Cool Exhibit Confuses Critics--Might be Feminist

Sesame, a gallery in Islington promotes "emerging artists," and presents "shows that reflect exciting new movements in contemporary art." This month they host "Wild Styles: Hot Craft," an exhibit that will feature people we know well, like Jenny Hart, and others working in "craft media."

I think Kate Westerholtz's cross-stitch is likeable, cute even, though I bet she doesn't want me to think so. (I prefer Homer Simpson's version, "I want to rock and roll all night, and part of every day.") But I'm a little tired of reviews like this one. "To prove it, Proud is curating Wild Styles: Hot Craft, an all-girl exhibition of craft stars who, arguably, represent the feminist backlash to the domestic-goddess ideal. " It's not your grandmother's cross stitch, so it must be feminist. My main thesis in response to this is "not quite." That's good and academic-like.

It's the same reply I have to this article which is more "it is your grandma's craft, but it's/I'm feminist because I say so." I've been thinking about writing a rejoinder--about showing how craft and feminism have always been linked, and indeed, always ambivalently--but it seems like it would be so complicated I'd need a whole book. I don't know if I have another book-length project in me. I think my brain has started to atrophy. And the actual research would kill me. But I did think of a title, which had the words "new" "domesticity" and "feminis*" in the title, but I've already forgotten it--I did check it on amazon, and it seems to be available. If I can't even keep a title in my head, how will I ever work out a whole argument?

I guess the world will just have to go on being confused about the craft movement and whether it is or isn't or might be feminist.

8 comments:

Barbara said...

Confusion can be a good thing. Keeps people thinking.

Adrienne said...

Am I the only one who looks at some of those pieces and thinks, "ooooh. Porn-themed hooked rugs. How very subversive, but thinks it in a sing-songy sarcastic voice?

That might just be me.

Coral said...

Those muscle relaxants are working on your brain!

Yeah, recently a new person at work said "You are showing your age" when he walked past my desk at lunchtime and I was putting in a few stitches. What a cheek!! I was quite incensed, and when I showed him my recently framed Michael Powell he nearly bit his tongue off. Guess who is off my x-stitch xmas card list now? (Not that I have the time for such 'trivialities') Ha ha!

Nic said...

Regardless of *what* I stitch, my craft empowers me, and aises my self esteem, so does that make it feminist? Or is there just a depbate because needlework is perceived as an almost exclusively female craft? A very "male" hobby such as fishing doesn't come under such scrutiny...

The needlework and feminism debate goes way back though - in fiction, think of Hester Prynne and the way she claims the scarlet letter for her own by embellishing it, and the way she regains her status in the community by her skill with the needle.

doahleigh said...

I'm ashamed I didn't know this was even out there, this whole crafts as feminism (or not?) thing. I'm a crafter and a feminist... how did I miss this? I'm interested in learning more... you should write your book. I'll help if you want. :)

Anna van Schurman said...

"A very 'male' hobby such as fishing doesn't come under such scrutiny..."

Nic, part of the problem is that traditionally men get to define themselves as, say, masculine and fisherman and fishing contributes to the masculinity (and from gender studies we know that all men aren't keen on this) but they also defined femininity for us at some mythical time in the past. Some women think rejecting the feminine gives them power and others think they can have their femininity and power too.

I think they might be both right...

But the important thing--and remember I really think I need a lot longer to say this properly--the important thing is intention. Someone might be a feminist and craft, but if the craft doesn't contribute to the politics in an intentional way then I'd have to say craft isn't feminist. That would be the thesis.

So yes, Adrienne, sometimes I get sing songy too.

missy said...

Of course a woman crafting is thought as being a "feminist", because it's taking away from men. Instead of stitching I should be cooking and cleaning!!

Anonymous said...

I stitch and I fish - not at the same time, of course. That would be a trick.

I even clean my own fish. What I don't do is finish unfinished needlework.

dd