|Soft sculptures by Daisy Collingridge|
I was also struck by how many of the artist statements referenced a conscious exploration of the relationship between femininity and textile crafts. In a post-Pussyhat era this should probably not be particularly surprising, though given the audience to which textile show like this cater in the UK (i.e. white middle-class and middle-age women with an increasing number of younger women who have discovered a passion for the hand-made), it was still unusual to see this topic explored in so many of the galleries without it being a central theme of the show. Unfortunately, my initial excitement about this was soon flattened and I more than once cringed at some of the sweeping generalisations that, in my opinion, very much reframed needlework and femininity within the restrictive binary categories that the pieces supposedly thought to redefine. In fact, more than once, they appeared to reinscribe the idea of 'women's work' as something that exists outside the realm of public politics.
Take, for example, this sentence found in one of the galleries: "Before women had a political voice, they used domestic arts as a covert form of protest and activism". Firstly, the sentence literally implies that there was a time when women had no political voice whatsoever. As such, it basically questions the political validity and efficacy of the 'covert form[s] of protest and activism" it refers to. Not only does the statement create a hierarchy between good and bad activism, but also around definitions of 'the political'. Subsequently, the abstract then goes on to equate suffrage with 'political voice', thus, grounding the political and political voice firmly within the realm of state-sanctioned acts of citizenship like voting. And low and behold, with a general election around the corner in the UK, I am by no means saying that voting isn’t important.
|An Ideal Woman? Who blazed your trail? by Jen Cable|
However, I do think that we need to move away from conceptualisations of the political and political voice solely within the context of normative citizenship and 'measurable' or quantifiable perceptions of practical politics that often focus on policies, government spending and voter turnout. These concepts themselves are deeply tied to patriarchal and colonial systems of knowledge and governance that have always attempted to relegate 'women's work' as inferior. If this then is the framework against which we examine "domestic arts as a covert form of protest and activism," I am afraid that it will always be found lacking. My suggestion? Let's try and avoid this binary way of thinking and focus instead on the kind of political acts practices of needlework make possible. How can they provide a means to rethink our understanding of concepts like the political, political voice, and citizenship?
|Touching Corner by Luisa Desanti|