CRAFTIVISM: CHANGING THE WORLD ONE STITCH AT A TIME

 

Betsey Greer coined the term craftivism because she was interested in what happens when you create a theory or an idea using a new word, and you don’t tell anyone about it.  Who finds you?  Why?

 

Greer wrote her master’s dissertation in 2004 on knitting, punk/DIY culture and community.  Craftivism.com started out as a sociology project.  Since then she has been writing about that place where craft and activism connect culturally.  She wanted to talk about the driving forces behind craft rather than just craft itself.  She sees both craft and activism as two culturally negated words and wanted to turn them, together, into something that could help towards the common good.  As is the case with Ethical Metalsmiths, the difficult thing is to find the place between the vastness of the planet and how you can, as one person and with your specific talents, help. 

 

Craftivism has become a movement.  It even has its own blog section on Etsy.  The definition of craftivism is “the practice of engaged creativity, especially regarding political or social causes.  By using their creative energy to help make the world a better place, craftivists help bring about positive change via personalised activism.  Craftivism allows practitioners to customise their particular skills to address particular causes…making a difference one person at a time.”[1]

 

So, for example, craftivists might knit baby hats and take them to the local hospital; or knit a hat for a homeless person.  This is far removed from policies and politics; but a homeless person now has a hat who was hatless before.  In a similar vein to the Transition movement, craftivism turns away from the feeling of hopelessness which is all too easy to feel when faced with the mountain of difficulties in the world – as greer says, “finding ways to react against what is happening without either giving up or exploding.”  Both embrace the maxim of John Seymour, who said, “I am but one. I cannot do everything.  But what one can do, that I will do.”

 

A few years ago in Perth, Australia, a friend was watching a current affairs programme on television concerning the plight of homeless people.  She realised she had not known about this issue before.  An inveterate knitter, she decided to knit scarves for those living on the street and to take them to them in her small car.  In a matter of months this had snowballed into a regular Friday night run which included food donated by local businesses (including a large fast food chain), blankets, and other items.  

 

In many ways craftivism can be seen as a reclaiming or reworking of feminist ideas – “a way to synthesise a resurgent interest in domestic arts into a new brand of feminism and participate in a broad, unstructured resistance to the mass-marketing of products and policies.”[2]  Greer sees it as “a return to home economics tinged with a hint of irony as well as a fond embracement.”[3]

 

Craftivism is at least as much about relationships as it is about objects.  Quilting or knitting bees are about connection and communities as much as they are about quilting and knitting.  In the case of the homeless person who now has a hat, it is not just a question of the physical hat object but also a way of showing someone that they are worthy of handmade objects and that they are cared for.  The project in Perth seemed as much about the little car and the personal contact as it was about sandwiches or scarves.  For the craftivists, the DIY culture is not specifically associated with objects but with empowerment – if something needs doing, you don’t wait for the government, a man, someone nameless in power somewhere to do it for you.  You have the skills, or you develop the skills to do it yourself.

 

And craftivism is part of a DIY movement that is explicitly or implicitly anti-globalisation, anti-corporate, anti-advertising – anti everything which alienates the consumer from the processes of production.  A recent exhibition and events programme at the Arnolfini in Bristol called Craftivism described itself thus:

Craftivism is a participative exhibition responding to the resurgent interest in craft as it relates to socially-engaged art practice. It involves 14 projects developed by artists and collectives that work with craft-based traditions and activist practices, and who employ the tactics of ‘craftivism’ (combining crafting & activism) to question the prevailing codes of mass consumerism.

Kayle Brandon and Heath Bunting included this work: 

 

As part of the artists’ ongoing mapping project, visitors are invited to view Bristol via the edible plant organisms living within the city’s public spaces. Edible feral, wild and domestic plants can be located, identified and harvested using this map that excludes road names in favour of plant names. The artists have selected a section of their map to be rendered as a brass memorial plaque, focusing on Brandon Hill. Visitors are invited to make their own Food for Free brass rubbing to take away and use in the Park where the plaque will be re-located in Spring 2010, a short walk from Arnolfini. In Arnolfini Café Bar, The Rosehip Trade invites public contributions of foraged rosehips as ingredients for its menu in exchange for a rosehip drink and recipe leaflet that explores the different histories of this seasonal fruit[4].

 

Critics of the programme have questioned the ability of socially-engaged art work to sit within a gallery programme context.  As the remit of galleries and all other cultural institutions increasingly includes social engagement I, for one, welcome the questioning, but would be glad to see any answers come in the form of actions.


[1] http://craftivism.com/definition.html

[2] www.womensenews.org accessed 16/02/2010

[3] http://craftivism.com/definition.html