Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Changing the world one orange at a time

At one of my first Operation Orange workshops, in which I use craft (to help people understand breast surgery and reconstruction) and Pimms (to get them in the mood), it just so happened a design historian was in the audience. Deborah Sugg Ryan has been observing the culture of craftivism that's all around us — that's craft + activism (more on that below) — and has been working on a proposal with a colleague, Fiona Hackney, for an upcoming Design History conference on Design Activism and Social Change.

Deborah's been very careful to point out to me that her document is still at the proposal stage, but she is letting me reproduce the abstract now because, well, a) it's so cool and b) my orangey fun gets a mention. The abstract picks up on some fascinating stuff. I had to start by looking up antimacassar (they are practical and often decorative squares draped over the back of the sofa to prevent greasy marks being left by well-oiled hair. Edwardian men were partial to a bit of 'Macassar' oil.) And the list of radical craft organisations is simply inspiring, and worth looking into.

‘Under the Pavement Lies the Antimacassar’: Quiet Activism and Radical Domestic Crafts
From self-proclaimed Stitch ‘n’ Bitch groups to ‘yarn bombing’, the social and political activism of the craftivism movement (e.g. Betsy Greer’s Knitting for Good),  ‘stunt’ and ‘extreme’ knitting, the work of artists such as Freddie Robins, the Ravelry knitting community, Etsy and the vast array of blogs, websites and publications such as Dominiknitrix, Hand-Made Nation, yarnageddon.com and  DIYcouture that market making and amateur crafts, we are witnessing a seemingly unstoppable resurgence of interest in traditional ‘women’s’ crafts. Any consideration of crafting involves a complicated critique when crafts in the workplace (mainly undertaken by men) continue to be presented as resistant, in contrast to women’s home craft, which is for personal pleasure or decorative purposes.  When property developer and tv presenter Kirsty Allsopp entreats us to make things for the home, as a writer on the Craft and Sustainability website recently observed, does this represent a critique of capitalism or a return to ‘traditional values’?

Through a selection of contemporary case studies this paper argues that what embroiderer Deidre Nelson terms the ‘quiet activism’ of craft practice undertaken at home, in public spaces or Minahan & Cox’s virtual ‘third spaces’ (blogs and facebook pages), mainly but not exclusively by women employing traditional skills, is, and has always been, radical.  Kelly Stevens’ ‘Operation Orange’ (using craft skills to empower breast cancer patients and educate health professionals), the ‘Ohsewbrixton’ sewing co-operative, the Shoreditch Sisters WI group for whom ‘knitting and making jam are an act of rebellion’ and make-do-and-mend.org with their utility-inspired slogan, ‘Use it up, wear it out, make it Do and Do without’, represent a new generation of young women who find no contradiction between making and mending and feminism.  For them crafting foregrounds health, ethical living and collective action; values traditionally embedded within the domestic crafts and women’s lives.  

No comments:

Post a Comment