Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Is feminist "craft" possible?

Stella Minahan and Julie Wolfram Cox describe the growing movement/ collective called Stitch'n Bitch as, "...the global movement where women meet virtually, through the internet, and physically, often in local cafes and hotels, to socialize and share their craft" ("Stitch 'n Bitch" 6). Of most interest to me in this conversation is the traditional belittling or condescending views of "women's craft," or of craft in general. Minahan and Cox write that, "Craft is often seen as solely physical labour, messy and dirty, without an intellectual or aesthetic component and a perceived minimal contribution to cultural development" (11). In terms of craft, such as knitting and embroidery, being labeled as "women's art," Gisela Ecker writes that “What has been imposed on women through oppressive social conditions or prejudice should not be made part of our definition of woman’s art and thus be further perpetuated (Feminist Aesthetics 16). Ecker does not believe that what we call craft should be considered feminist or women's art as these are practices that women were relegated to when they were not allowed into the "real" art world. Ecker does not consider a reworking or redefining of such craft possible to fit feminism. She holds the same dismissive view of craft that Minahan and Cox outline. Minahan and Cox even discuss their issues with the continued, and often more severe, practice of relegating women to this craft: "It appears that while crafts such as stitching and embroidery may be a positive and social occupation for many, there are still far too many women around the world who are required to work at these tasks for poor pay rates and in difficult conditions" (15).

What then can be conclude from these statements? Can "craft" be feminist? Does it matter? As Minahan and Cox argue, there is a growing sense of community between women online in this movement. Is that not something positive for women? Many of those involved may not even identify as feminist but find strength among other women and are able to discuss important issues because they feel a connection with one another over this particular craft.

Marianne Jorgensen began this particular project to protest the Dutch military involvement in Iraq. Jorgensen asked for people worldwide to crochet tiny pink hearts and squares to cover a tank and then stitched these pieces together. She says that “…the tank is a symbol of stepping over other people's borders. When it is covered in pink, it becomes completely unarmed and it loses it's authority. Pink becomes a contrast in both material and color when combined with the tank.” For a full description of the project please click on this link to the artist's personal website.

I use this as an example because this is one potential site of feminist intervention using networks similar to those described in "Stitch 'n Bitch." What, however, makes this feminist? Fran Lloyd maintains that “…feminist art [is] any intervention in the dominant system of artistic production and reception which has historically excluded or marginalized women” ("Painting" 38). Jorgensen, however, takes a traditional feminine craft that has historically held little or no meaning, and used it as a site of intervention against war. This craft is seen as traditionally feminine, and war, although its meaning has changed more than once over the past century, is traditionally associated with the masculine. By playing on this relationship, is her protest successful? Could it be argued this protest piece is feminist?

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