This past Thursday, Mar. 23, I had the pleasure of attending and performing in the opening reception of a brand new exhibit at the Swope Building’s Knauer Gallery.
The exhibit, entitled “Craftivism: Needles for Change,” is a collection of traditionally “female” art forms—crochet, needlepoint, embroidery—with each piece reflecting a current societal ill and accompanied by an artist’s statement encouraging action for positive change. “Craftivism,” as the WCU Art & Design Department describes it, is a portmanteau of “crafting and activism.” The art displayed imparts messages about homophobia, transphobia, racism, mental health, animal cruelty, climate change, sustainability, misogyny and female autonomy, among others.
Much of the submitted work comes from close to home: several pieces are those of West Chester’s own students and faculty, and some have been sent from the surrounding areas of Philadelphia and Mansfield. A patchwork quilt, which tells a story about the mistreatment of greyhounds in the dog racing industry, is on loan all the way from Australia.
Available for viewing are multiple embroidery hoops, one bearing the Doja Cat “Woman” lyrics, “Define feminine: I am feminine” and another reading, “capitalism is a death cult.” There is a stunning cardigan, made over the course of a year by Ellie Zdancewic, that warns against the inhumanity of crocheted fast-fashion products. An impressively intricate blue and yellow lace table runner reminds visitors of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. A collection of handmade sea creatures and underwater felt scenes caution viewers to respect and preserve the world’s oceans and their inhabitants from pollution.
One especially striking piece, “Child of God,” dominates the gallery from the rear corner. It shows a child-sized mannequin dressed in a parochial school uniform, on the back panel of which has been stitched: “AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals, it’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.” The mannequin stands in front of a large banner proclaiming “nullus homo est deus”—“no man is god”—that, upon closer inspection, has been made from the chasuble vestment of a Catholic priest. “I was born at the start of the AIDS pandemic,” says its creator, Shannon Downey (@BadassCrossStitch), who was brought up and educated in the Roman Catholic Church. “I was meant to hate myself.”
Seemingly unassuming, these forms of feminism through fabric are an accessible means of small protest for “those people who want to challenge injustice in the world but don’t know what to do,” according to the Craftivist Collective. If you have a pair of knitting needles and a desire to start a conversation, you can participate.
Dance, though not a handicraft, is one such avenue of artistic expression commonly seen as “feminine.” Myself and my peers, Charisse Octavio and Ola Olaniyi, have spent the semester collaborating on a performance art piece in our DAN 399 class, Making & Performing Dances for Impact.
Under the direction of professor Maria Urrutia, Charissa, Ola and I set out to choreograph a live performance experience specifically intended for the context of the gallery. We ultimately created a piece which blended our unique styles to the Allie X song “Fresh Laundry,” choosing to incorporate movement that highlights the differences between our respective feminine identities as well as the ways in which they overlap and support one another. The overarching themes of the dance include shame and guilt, promiscuity and the societal pressures of maternity.
Constance Case, associate professor of Costume Technology and Design, is the mind behind the Craftivism exhibit. One of her submitted pieces, an enormous machine-embroidered quilt, bears the “Craftivist Manifesto”: ten principles meant to guide the aspiring Craftivist, such as “be the tortoise” and “provoke don’t preach.” Case says, “One of the most important aspects of craftivism is that anyone can do it.”
Craftivism will be on display through Apr. 10, 2023. The Knauer Gallery is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Hannah Linkowsky is a second-year Early Grades Prep major in the Honors College with minors in Spanish, Dance Performance, and Civic + Professional Leadership. HL977843@wcupa.edu.