. . . . Do what you can. Use what you have.” –Arthur Ashe
As I watch my work gravitate towards promoting makers and exploring the transformative powers of creative expression, I’m encouraged by the ability of fiber and handwork to build communities and increase awareness of social/political issues. It makes my head spin how comprehensive and effective the applications of craft can be in expressing sentiments, and advocating change. Stitching is no longer considered the prisoner of Victorian era parlors or the sole education opportunity for young girls in colonial America. However, the voices of these women can still be found in the quiet stitches of antique samplers as the influencers for contemporary stitchers and activists.
One such application of political craft practice is being used to increase economic opportunities and build new lives for thousands of women who are being trained in sewing and embroidery to earn a living and break the cycle of poverty.
The organization MarketPlace: Handwork of India provides the infrastructure to educate and council women to become leaders in their communities.
A nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing economic opportunites for over 480 women artisans in India, and empowering them to bring about changes in their lives, their families, and their communities. Since MarketPlace began in 1986, women who were formerly unemployed, “unemployable”, or desperately underemployed have been building new lives around rewarding work, education opportunities and social support.
The MarketPlace works with over 400 artisans who are organized into 11 independent cooperatives that produce high-quality women’s apparel and home décor. They learn skill like sewing and embroidery, and participate in all aspects of running the cooperatives. Some have never picked up a needle before so the aim is to meet the artisan where they are with their skills and teach designs that can be learned and then built upon later.
Economic development is the first step in breaking the cycle of poverty and powering social change. When a woman is able to earn a living and feed her family, her worth within the family increases significantly. As women become empowered economically, socially, personally, they grow to be leaders.
I made a new friend a few weeks ago, Adele Mattern, who is a designer and visual artist working in a wide range of mediums. She was the instructor of a Block Printing Workshop at Shephard & Maudsleigh Studios in Newton. As a clothing designer for major retailers in the U.S., Adele shares her skills with the women of MarketPlace India in the production of textiles for the western market. She invests her heart into the cause and over the years has developed relationships with artisans like Rupa Trivedi of Adiv Natural and more. I admire her dedication to these women and her efforts to promote change through craftsmanship.
Travelling to Liverpool, England we learn about Sarah Corbett, an activist who is passionate about challenging injustices. She uses craft (particularly cross stitch) to engage herself and others in global issues in a nonthreatening and deeply engaging way. She puts craft and activism together to become Craftivism. The term Craftivism was coined by another notable, the American Betsy Greer as “… a way of looking at life where voicing opinions through creativity makes your voice stronger, your compassion deeper.”
Corbett realized that many traditional forms of activism actually annoyed the very people she was trying influence so she traded her shouting, picket lines and screaming of demands for a ‘slow activism’ through making. Her small handstitched projects thoughtfully tackle issues of human rights, global poverty and social inequality. She has 2 publications A Little Book of Craftivisim and How To Be a Craftivist. The first title is a small book that outlines her mission and offers tutorials on effective craft practices for your own activism. For her it is about the activism first and the craft is practiced as a humane engager and communicating tool. The second title is a comprehensive statement that outlines the behaviors that effectively make change. Check out her shop for guidance and kits to support your own resistance.
Back here, in Chicago, Shannon Downey of Badass Cross Stitch is an artist, craftivist, community builder of her own kind. She “…blends her politics, activism and art into projects that are designed to inspire others to take action, think, discuss, engage with democracy and their community.”
Her tagline reads PUT MORE ANALOG IN YOUR DIGITAL. She believes the biggest cultural challenge in the U.S. is around finding a digital/analog balance. She created her movement to inspire, enable and encourage making while pushing boundaries to create monumental change and engaging without your phone.
In 2018 she initiated a collaborative called Badass HERstory. She is inviting “Every woman, female identified, and gender nonbinary human on the planet to stitch their story.”
The goal is to have at least one million contributing to the largest installation project the world has ever seen and to have it be created by women. “One million new stitchers who put down their devices, learn to embroider, and use their hands and hearts to slow down and create a beautiful analog version of their story.”
Sharon works digitally too. She maintains a website with tutorials, galleries of work, events and ambassador training. Her blog entitled Seriously Badass Women profiles women who are doing “unbelievable things with their lives”. It is a forum for women to talk about what they do and share what they believe in - providing inspiration for the rest of us.
The most recent post, and what spurred me to pull these thoughts together, is about Beth Conrad McLaughlin. Beth is the chief curator at Fuller Craft Museum and she is “… passionate about exploring the ways in which handwork can be used as a tool for political resistance.”
I have the honor of working with Beth for her thoughtful show Human Impact: Stories of the Opioid Epidemic at Fuller Craft Museum. She is bringing together artists working in craft-based media with families who have been impacted by the crisis. Eleven artists were chosen to meet with families and create new works inspired by our conversations and their stories.
My family is a single mom whose son overdosed on heroin/fentanyl. The pain and anguish was palpable and I was struck by how much loss is felt by the thousands affected by this epidemic. This inspired a 12-foot, 2-sided memorial of 3600 remembrance poppies with each poppy representing 200 individuals who have died due to opioid related complications. Please read my previous post, I’ll Get You My Pretty…, to learn more.
Human Impact: Stories of the Opioid Epidemic will exhibit from September 28, 2019 – May 5, 2020.
Please stay tuned as we add programs, dates and times.