Monday, January 18, 2010
art as resistance
Every year for International Women's Week, one of the local galleries does a juried art show, usually inconjunction with the Gender Equality and Social Justice department here at the university. This year's theme is Art of Resistance, and I would really like to submit a knitted piece. Unfortunately, I just don't know what to submit.
Many knitters, all much smarter than I, do incredible politically minded projects--Rav had a whole group of "Knitters for Obama" who came up with some mindblowing ideas. The Body Count Mittens have always been a personal favourite of mine; since you finish the mittens on different dates, they will have different numbers on them, representing the number of casualties in the Iraq war. I considered doing Afghanistan mittens, but I don't know that I'd have access to the body count information, and I also don't want to simply re-tread ground others have already walked on. It's hard to justify knitting as a subversive act when you're following a pattern.
Poetry mittens are another option; perhaps with lines from Rich or Atwood? Cixous, even? But that still doesn't feel like it's quite enough.
Part of the problem is that I have very mixed feelings about the relationship between knitting and politics. In some ways, yes, it is very much about resistance: it is an act of reclamation. I reclaim my past (imagined?), participating in the culture of my ancestors. I create things by hand: every item that I make is something unique, something not created by a machine or in a sweatshop. It is labour but also love. I reclaim it as a feminist act: I knit because I choose to knit; I knit primarily for myself. The act of knitting is political because it destabilizes commonly encountered cultural attitudes about knitting and knitters.
The flip side is that it only does these things because of my class; is the reclamation of a working class profession as my upper middle class hobby really all that awesome, or just kind of bourgeois? Knitting isn't truly a matter of necessity for me; it is a luxury, and one I choose to pursue. Does the mere fact of choice problematize any arguments about reclamation?
Even if you want to ignore all of these, there are still the political issues that every knitter must face: body image and body politics; man vs. animal fibre; the environmental costs of plant fibres; neoconservatism (women who see knitting as a reclamation of traditional gender roles and values) vs. progressive liberalism (people who see knitting as an honourable craft); bargain vs. luxury yarns; local yarn stores vs. online stores; stash size as a measure of worth; the DIY esthetic; design and designers; community.
How can I turn all of that into a simple handmade garment?