Craft + activism = Craftivism
| Lizzy Willmington |
Craftivism is about reclaiming craft and breaking it out of the domicile environment and into the streets, parks, railings, and pretty much anywhere you can attach a cable tie on. The process takes thought; the skills take time and subjects are about long term issues. It’s about the return of craft and a resistance to mass production; a celebration of the individual and an encouragement to participate. There is an appreciation for craft and for making something with your own hands, for the time it takes, for individual productivity and for the common goals that the optimistic craftivists hope to achieve.
While speaking at a book signing in Wellington last month, Germaine Greer said you’ve got to write the agenda. If you want to change the conversation you have to create the opportunity for discussion. This is what craftivism is doing: shedding the preconceptions and expectations of politics and art and bringing them into the open and public sphere. The visual form is very powerful and has been used throughout history for social change and to facilitate dialogue. By yarn bombing, for example, a seemingly innocent and harmless craft, the multi-layered form of protest can begin to unfold. At first instance there is a visual recognition, there is something out of its usual environment which causes people to stop and take notice. Curiosity is stirred. After further investigation, begins an appreciation for what has been made; the colours, textures and materials, the time it takes, the effort that has been taken to actually create and further more to decorate an otherwise ugly road sign post. The discussion around handmade versus mass production is raised, the death of craft, the rebirth of craft. It puts some colour and texture into the urban mundane, creating social challenge. It gives the viewer a little kick out of a subtle rebellion. The power of the individual is displayed.
The name of this online magazine can help sum up the concept. ‘Stir to Action‘: a gradual understanding of the complexity and multitude of issues to which craftivism challenges. It isn’t as overt as a protest or confrontational as a debate, rather craftivism inspires to slowly and individually go about providing a creative vehicle for politically and socially inspired change. It is about personal engagement and exchange, and the idea that the journey is as important as the end result. Seemingly harmless and innocent materials are not what they first appear and encourage viewers to re-evaluate what they see and the meaning behind it. It is quietly stubborn and optimistically persistent, with a cheeky grin.
Craftivism is part of a wider ‘Slow Design’ movement; an extension from the Slow Food movement (opposed to fast food). The movement shares notions of local sourcing and production and a soporific approach to consumption. It also focuses on ‘an expanded state of awareness, accountability for daily actions, and the potential for a richer spectrum of experience for individuals and communities.’* By encouraging these principles into an public space, a space which is now receiving a lot of attention through movements such as the Arab Spring and the Global Occupy Movement, it provides opposition to the dominant hegemony. This has been made all the more possible through social media, and allowed the movement to connect globally. It is a nonthreatening approach to gradual and lasting change; who can be threatened by cross stitching?! One approach which is particularly well received is sharing free cupcakes. It is a very simple and powerful way to engage with people. It encourages a sense of community and openness, a generous approach to life which are fundamental principles of the movement. The Wellington Craftivist Collective supports Occupy Wellington by performing this act during the weekends. With a stall covered with vegan and politically decorated cupcakes and ‘free cupcakes’ cross stitch sign the members of the collective were set up. They engaged with people and promoted free trade, dairy free and the power of personal creativity and rejection of the pre-made, whether it be through the act of baking, decorating the baked goods.
These are the shared kaupapa (principles) of The Wellington Craftivism Collective and used as guidelines for all the work the collective does. The outline of the collective is quite simple really, politically and socially motivated people who are using a creative vehicle for change. Over the summer and with an alignment with the Occupy movement in Wellington there have been many opportunities to engage with a wider audience, most noticeably through workshops. The focus of the workshops has been to make individual patches to come together for the purpose of forming to make a blanket. At Kiwiburn (the New Zealand offshoot of Burning Man) two members of the collective ran a patch making workshop. Granted it was the prime audience for the task, but it was really successful — they recruited me! People were intrigued by what we were doing and keen for something to do but nervous thinking they wouldn’t be good enough. Many people popped the cross stitching cherry, some had never sewn before. The biggest barrier tends to be lack of confidence, but when you get a workshop going apprehensions are dropped with each stitch made.
Down through the bunny hole,
Around the big tree,
Up pops the bunny,
And off goes she!**
Once they were set up with a few simple stitches and some templates they were off; the silence of concentration and the genuine joy that they were learning something new and would produce something for their efforts was clear. Guidance was offered when needed but mostly people had an idea and were eager to watch it materialise. The project allows the individual to articulate their ideologies and beliefs through creative means. It gives them the time, a focus and an activity which is often essential to helping people cultivate and define their opinions. The idea behind the blanket is to support the Global Occupy Movement, with individuals creating a patch in relation to the issues surrounding the movement. Another workshop was put on at the launch of Occupy your Ears, a CD with local musicians in support of the movement. The subject matter of each individual’s patch is broad and personalised — one person did a patch to address ginger rights (an issue very special to her). The notion that there is no right or wrong answer is often very relieving and can break down the barrier of expectation. The blanket is made up of four smaller blankets; one of the quarters is traveling around Europe at the moment, with a companion to facilitate discussions and workshops surrounding the principles of the Global Occupy Movement. There have also been a large number of patches posted to us in New Zealand from around the world, emphasising this is a global movement for global change. The collective is built on the notion of community; an environment of shared ideals and common goals where people can take time for the craft and contribute to the agenda. This can happen by sitting together in a physical space but also by connecting internationally, via social media and the internet. Through the internet a wider audience can be reached, and it can encourage people to form collectives in their own physical space and encourage the conversation with their friends and family.
The power is in the collective of the individual; the notion of productivity and the individual contribution to a wider, global movement. Craftivism is one method, one vehicle, but there are many other vehicles taking the same journey, more than willing to take hitchhikers and car shares along the way. There are many local and global movements to investigate and be part of. In order to progress for the kind of change you want participation is key – however you feel is effective.
**A rhyme to teach how to knit
Lizzy Willmington is a member of Craftivism Wellington