So it’s International Women’s Day 2019, the perfect excuse to show you how to make feminist art. No, hang on! DON’T RUN! I’m not suggesting you daub your sagging flange with poster paint before pressing it onto paper and framing it (although I quite fancy trying that now). What I mean is that if you’ve ever wanted to use your craft to support the women’s movement, but didn’t know how, here are a shit-ton of tips about how to go about it. Never again feel resigned to knitting pink baby blankets when your soul craves revolution and nailing Trump’s nuts to a wall…
Get inspiration from what you’re passionate about. If you want to tell the patriarchy to get fucked focus on that. If you want to break free from the social expectations of motherhood, that’s your fuel. What makes you hop will generate more ideas when you make feminist art than anything nebulous and vague.
Use your experience
What’s happened to you personally? Pinpoint that and you’ll picture what you want to say. It could be tearing your vag during childbirth, leaking through your trousers during a period or anything from body shaming, domestic violence and marriage to sex, workplace inequality and cat-calling. If there’s one thing we can say about the patriarchy it’s that it’s given us plenty of inspiration. Bastard.
Because you want to
Don’t make feminist art because you think you should. Make it because you want to. Otherwise you’re just bullying yourself in the way society bullies you. As much as we want to see change neither do we want to see you sobbing as you stitch banners instead of doing your fave science projects.
Don’t think of it as ‘art’
That’s because, if you’re like me, it’ll scare the shit out of you. Instead focus on using your voice though what you make. It’ll still be art but you’ll avoid the paralysing performance pressure.
You don’t have to make feminist art with a traffic-stopping installation about uneven cup sizes. You can do it quietly too. Stitch one small but meaningful word on a piece of knitting or the next time you sew a garment give it – gasp – pockets.
Do what you know
Whether you crochet, knit, sew or work with metal, you’re 95% of the way there. Now all you have do is think about what you want to say and render it through those skills. You can already make feminist art. You just haven’t tried it yet.
Do your work really need to be neat or does messing it up say something? Is that made-up stitch of yours more communicative than the ones you’ve been taught to do? And would creating something oversized or weirdly small help shout your message better?
What’s in your power?
Don’t think that to make feminist art you need some arty secret. You don’t. Just take control of the ideas that fire you up as well as everything from your materials and colour choices through to scale and shape. It might be overwhelming at first – so much choice! – but read on for ideas…
Practice, practice, practice
Ok, so you may be a creative feminist geyser just waiting to go off but if you’re not, be patient. It can take practice to break the bonds of what we have been taught. Just keep trying because the more you do it, the easier it’ll get. Nevertheless, she persisted…
I have nothing more to add.
Look at it this way: women’s issues can be ugly, barbaric, unfair, nasty, scary, intimidating and exhausting. Don’t forget that when you make feminist art, that can be ugly too. Gorgeous knitting with brutally wrenched holes in it could say waaaay more about modern womanhood than something immaculately and delicately rendered.
Like minded people
Someone I know was once kicked out on an online quilting group because the colours she used were too bright. The moral of the story? Fuck ‘em and find groups of people who share your passion. It could be other feminists, a different demographic, modern art lovers, craftivists… anyone who is genuinely interested in what you have to say.
You know how in galleries, art comes with lengthy descriptions of the artist’s meaning and intent? Oh, spare me. Art doesn’t have to be complex to pack a punch. You could knit a scarf that says ‘Fuck the patriarchy!’ or run up a banner that shouts ‘BASTARD MEN!’. You don’t have to be deep and mysterious to make feminist art. You can just be really, really, REALLY pissed off.
We’ve been taught to make what’s functional, right? A scarf, blanket, bag, apron… well what you make has worth even if it is never used. Just enjoy the process of speaking through what you create even if you keep it in a drawer when it’s done.
Display your message
And if you want your work to make a difference? Show it to people. Give it to someone who needs courage, donate it to a refuge or your cause, display it in your home, hang it off a lamppost in the dead of night or share it online. You have the chance of influencing everyone who ever sees it and what more could you want from your feminist art than that?
When you make feminist art sometimes you can say a lot by doing a little. Use the Suffragette colours of purple, green and white in your work rather than the colours expected of you or make clothes for girls in any colour other than pink.
Knit or stitch in public because it always sparks conversation. I often sew anatomical pieces in a coffee shop and it shocks people that I’m sewing gall bladders rather than flowers. That it itself is a feminist act because you’re showing people that your skills are more than ‘just’ women’s work but an actual art form. Try it.
The joy of using a traditionally female craft is that no one expects controversy from it. It leaves a mark when you use it to say something. That’s why I use a traditional floral design on many of my sweary hoops. At first glance they look delicate but when you see the word ‘FUCKER!’ in red floss it’s a shock. You can do the same.
Your little secret
To make feminist art doesn’t always mean being seen. Try this: incorporate teeny labels with a positive feminist message into your items. A bag could have a hidden label that reads ‘Come the revolution!’ or a floral cross stitch could have ‘patriarchal bastards!’ hidden on the wrong side. Even if no one else sees it, YOU know it’s there and that will give you strength.
So if you do a cross stitch of a woman with a parasol, give her a placard instead. If that baby jumper you’re knitting has cupcakes on it, swap them for space rockets. You’re just doing what Banksy does, in other words; taking two contrasting ideas (like his flower-throwing hooligan) and melding them together for a powerful single image.
Just say it
When you make feminist art, words can be enough. If you’re sick of women being paid unequally, just stitch onto a scrap of fabric ‘I’m sick of unequal pay’. Bung it on your notice board or leave it somewhere for others to find it. It’s no less of a piece of art because it’s quick and to the point.
Buy a crafting magazine and question all of it. When you see yet another apron pattern think about how you can turn it into something that shocks or surprises. Ask yourself what the male equivalent would be and make that instead. In short, get into the habit of thinking differently.
Is there an item that represents ‘your’ issue? If so, use that to create your art. I’ve embroidered sanitary pads because it was the most direct way of using my voice. You could print a copy of a ten pound note and pin it to your crochet or take a white baby romper and stitch into it the shitty expectations of pregnant women.
Make yourself nervous
It feels odd the first time you stitch a swear word, I’ll admit. We’re just not ‘trained’ to do it. But once you have done it you won’t be able to stop. If it scares you, do it anyway. It’s YOUR hobby and if you hate what you make no one needs to see it. Go on. Just give your voice a try. You might like what you hear.