Craftivism – OMG Yarn (balls)

Craftivism

Guest Post: Art, Cultural Appropriation, and Inspiration an Essay by John Ziv

August 2, 2017




Uh oh, look out, another controversial post about a topic that affects artists everywhere. This time it is cultural appropriation.

It is a topic that comes up quite often in social media. With the sociopolitical climate being what it is, “call-out culture” has reshaped what it means to be an active participant online, even within the fiber arts community.

And the discussion always gets heated.

No one, not even members within disparaged culture/group in question, can agree on the subject, and because the Internet is what it is, people get offensive, defensive, or just plain bold. Maybe it’s an effort to not look a certain way, BUT feelings ALWAYS get hurt.

When the lovely John Ziv of Working Wood Production approached me with an essay on this topic to post in Mildly Offensive Fiber Artists, a LARGE Facebook group that I help admin, I sat back and read it. It provoked thought, and I immediately envisioned the s**t storm that would ensue within the group.

This is a message that must be shared as food for thought, but as I mentioned, feelings ALWAYS get hurt. So in an effort to be more about community rather than competition – in this case, the cliche competition of “who’s the most woke” comes to mind – I am posting this essay with comments turned off.

That does not mean approach me or other admins from the group, or John about the topic with name-calling or assumptions about our intent. The intent is to start discussion outside of this arena, because really, OMG Yarn (Balls) is about appreciation of the fiber arts and provoking thought for you to do with what you will, as long as any negative energy is not being flung at others.

Anyway, I love the group members, readers and customers I work with on a daily basis, but right now, this is the world we live in. So, just food for thought, don’t shoot the messenger, and any other overused saying…shenanigans won’t be tolerated.

Without further ado…




Art, Cultural Appropriation, and Inspiration by John Ziv

This is a topic that has been coming up a lot lately, and unfortunately, I think a great many people don’t actually understand 1) what the terms mean, and 2) that generally, it is none of their business.

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First off, what is Art?

Art is in its simplest form, expression. It can be stacking two rocks on top of each other in a way that pleases or satisfies the person doing the stacking. It can be someone banging those two rocks together. It can be someone taking strands of grass and wrapping those rocks in them. Does that mean that it has to please or satisfy anyone else, or evoke an emotion or expression? Absolutely not.

Art is personal. It has nothing whatsoever to do with other people, unless the artist themselves decides to make it for other people. Even then, their opinion of said art, unless they are buying it, displaying it, or helping put it together, is their opinion, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the expression of the artist.

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Cultural Appropriation?

That is the “theft” of cultural icons by another culture. This can be anything from clothing patterns, to music, and even to linguistic idioms. Most commonly it is done by a dominant culture to a minority culture.

The biggest problem with cultural appropriation is that it often distorts, and eventually leads to the loss of meaning in regards to the elements of the culture that have been stolen. This can lead to severe misunderstandings and prejudices, as well as damage to both cultures.

However, one thing to note is that cultural assimilation is an ongoing process, and will happen no matter how protective of ones culture a community may be. For instance, we have historic evidence of the Nordic Seafarers(aka the Vikings) having adopted elements all the way from Russia to Africa, and even some from India and the Far East.

Some exchanges are good, in that they have been exchanges of knowledge. Better methods of construction, medicine, textiles, even cooking. Others have been extremely harmful, such as the Opium Epidemic in the far east, the Abrahmic religions(which are based on an amalgamation of several religions dating back to at least as early as 2000BC), and the forced loss of culture by slave owners and conquerors of various countries/indigenous peoples.

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Inspiration is just that, whatever happens to inspire you to do something. Sometimes it is something that happens to be part of your personal mainstream culture. Other times it is something that is part and parcel of another culture entirely, but happens to call you to create.

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Obviously, these three things can and do come into conflict when people are more concerned about protecting something that is effectively immaterial, rather than appreciating that the thought process is different for each person.

What inspires one person, and what that person takes from another culture, and then creates in expression, will not, cannot, be properly judged by anyone else, because it is a personal expression of what they think, feel, and wish to create.

That doesn’t mean that you have to like it. In fact you are free to dislike it, dislike what it stands for, dislike the person creating it, and otherwise just despise the entirety. I certainly have some artists who I can’t stand them, their work, their inspiration, or the fact that they pull it from a culture that they know nothing about.

What it does mean is that you should stop, and really think about why something bothers you, and if there truly is a theft, then speak out. If it is someone simply crafting for the beauty of it, appreciate it, ask about their inspiration, and discuss it and politely note that it bothers you slightly. If it is something that is simply a cheapening of your culture, laugh at them, and walk away. If it is outright theft, go at them hammer and tongs.

Most of all, don’t get on a high horse about the work of someone else, when you know nothing about their culture, or their inspiration. Rushing to judge is not good for you, or the artist.

—–

My personal thoughts.

I see artistic culture as an ever evolving ecosystem. Some species never really change much, waxing and waning, but always there. Other species flare up, grow enormously for a short while, and then die off suddenly. And some species are born from a mixture of other species, and find their niche in the ecosystem that allows them to grow, thrive, and be a productive part of that particular biosphere.

I do not approve of outright cultural theft. Do not go and claim your art is the real thing, when you have not immersed yourself into that culture and really learned what it means.

Be inspired by whatever you come across. If you happen to be inspired by music, dance, painting, textiles, language, or whatever, that is A-OK. Let it influence your world view, learn about it, interpret it, keep your mind open to other thoughts and ways of doing things. And be respectful while you do it.

If it weren’t for the good parts of cultural appropriation, we would not have music such as R&B, Rock, or regional Folk Music. We would not have such amazing spices for cooking such as Ginger, Nutmeg, and Cinnamon. We would not have Chocolate or Coffee! We would not have Arabic mathematical symbols and calculating methods. We would not have advanced medicine. We simply would not have much of what most of us appreciate on a day to day basis.

Sharing pieces of a culture does not take from that culture. The culture itself is still intact, unless it is being repressed. If you want to preserve your culture intact, make the effort to do so, but be glad that people outside your culture find parts or even most of it, something that inspires them and is appreciated by them, however misguided they may be.

Basically, don’t be an ass.

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As always, my Essays, Rants, Jokes, and Philosophical Maunderings are free to share. On topic discussion is welcome. Trolls and off topic discussion will be removed with an industrial blender and a hose fertilizer attachment.




Offensive Fiber Art and the Art of Offending through Art

May 11, 2017




My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort we have mass entertainment and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish. – Joyce Carol Oates

What do you think? Should art provoke? Should art offend? It certainly can.

Let’s explore that fact today, shall we?

In case you did not know, I help admin a Facebook group called, “Mildly Offensive Fiber Artists”. My friend Nicole Goetz of Mercantile 519 started the group a few months ago and it’s now composed of over 8,000 people!

Being an admin for large Facebook groups requires you to step back from your own personal beliefs in order to objectively look at problems that may arise between members of the group and offer a fair solution that may or may not help. If you can’t help, sometimes you remove people from the group, sometimes you take down posts, and sometimes you offend or enlighten others around you.

Offensive Fiber Art(ists)

My foray into my own mildly offensive fiber art didn’t start with knitting that big pile of pink hats for the March on Washington earlier this year, but it certainly influenced me a great deal. Discussions surrounding the hats usually took on one of two forms:

  1. People who were greatly offended by their interpretation of what the hats were all about AND
  2. People who were offended at the offense people took over the hats.

This eventually pointed me in the direction of where I wanted to go with OMG Yarn (Balls) and this little bloggy of mine.

I LOVE art. I have my own projects (like the “It Is Too Fucking Cold” hat pictured above), but I love seeing what people come up with on a daily basis in the Mildly Offensive Fiber Artists group. What I look forward to most is seeing some of the things that cross stitchers and embroiderers post: sassy sayings stitched in a way to provoke.

Most recently and most notably, a post in the group provoked a bit more than just an “OMG” from our members, but an intense discussion of institutional racism and experiences of others. Discussions got aggressive and beyond mildly offensive, leading multiple reports of the post. The image itself offended many as well.

Trying to stay neutral, I posted: “Admin here: Hi, stop reporting this post. If someone is being disrespectful to each other, contact us admins. You may not agree with the viewpoint given by the art in this post, but art is supposed to be provocative. Don’t like it, keep on scrolling.”

Then, I thought twice. Yes, art is supposed to be provocative but if it isn’t, is it still art?




The Art of Offending

As artists we cannot choose what is offensive to others, we can only create artistic works and hope that our intended meaning comes through. I mean, of course, sometimes a hat is just a hat and a sweater is just a sweater, but what about knitting or crocheting a uterus and sending it to a legislator to invoke change?

I cannot create a piece of art meant to offend and expect that EVERYONE will be offended. I also cannot tell someone who is offended by what I think is benign that they don’t have the right to be offended, even if it wasn’t my original intent. Like I said, we cannot control who is offended from who is not, but we can use art media in a way to provoke conversation.

Hell, there was a point at which someone was offended by my modern take on a dream catcher, even though I, myself, am Native American. I could have been offended by someone telling me what pieces I could and could not make, or I could have learned from the conversation. Why was she offended? What could I do better as a person to explain myself? Am I even required to explain myself as not exploiting a particular culture?

And then you could be offensive in what materials you use or how you use them…

The one thing that comes to mind when I think of offensive art was the fallout from Chris Ofili’s painting, “The Holy Virgin Mary”. The artist used elephant dung as a medium and the whole world lost their damn minds over it. Haha!

In the fiber arts community, there’s that lady who knits while keeping her yarn in her vagina. Nah, I’ll pass.

Offending, Provoking, and Invoking Fiber Arts as Means to an End for Change 

Me, personally, I just stick to my occasional craftivism and hope to impact the world positively through knitting and crocheting for a cause and also to help pass on the tradition of fiber arts to younger generations. That’s what I mean to do with my fiber art for fun. The heavy lifting for OMG Yarn, obviously is yarn dyeing and designing, but still, it wouldn’t be fiber art without a little bit of stirring up the pot, right?

Historically, knitters and crocheters have been on the forefront of change in many ways, and craftivism is not a new concept.

“The history of craftivist art lies in the foundations first established by the Arts and Crafts movement in the UK. The idea of ethical interactions and relationships between the artist and his or her environment as a whole has carried through the generations. Female-led efforts to promote craft industries in Canada during the late 19thcentury have also influenced today’s craftivist undertakings by implanting the trend with feminist values and ethics. Craft artists and social action groups are thus driven to create their art in conjunction with a framework dedicated to political change and constructive protest. Through the manipulation and exploitation of stereotypes that lie in the assumed innocence of knitted artwork, the familiarity and gentleness of craft art has become a tool for assertive social action.” (Hardy-Moffat, 2012).

Now, I’m seeing people I’ve met in the fiber arts industry, people like Donna Druchunas and more, invoking social change and awareness with their fiber arts. Facebook groups like Mildly Offensive Fiber Artists and Compassionate Craftivists have popped up for fiber artists to unite their efforts or just ogle over others’ hard work at “offending”.

In the end…

Fiber artists are really just group of people out for tolerance, acceptance, and change and they’re united through an obsession with various fibers made into string. What’s not to love about that?

And yes, I do realize that there are people that knit, crochet, spin, etc. just to relax or have fun, but that is evocative too, no? What say you?




References.

Frank, P. (2015, June 01). At $2.3 Million, It’s The Most Expensive Painting Made Of Elephant Poop. Retrieved May 11, 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/01/chris-ofili-elephant-dung_n_7470692.html

Hardy-Moffat, M. (2012, November 16). Feminism and the Art of “Craftivism”: Knitting for Social Change under the Principles of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Retrieved May 11, 2017, from http://cujah.org/past-volumes/volume-v/essay3-volume5/

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Baa Baa Black Sheep: Being a Person of Color in the Fiber Arts Industry

May 2, 2017




*Hits publish and waits for the trolls* I got my first trolls a few weeks ago. Seriously, just don’t bother, I won’t engage. Didn’t I tell you I was a little bit sassy? PS. My title was meant to be a little bit provocative to get your attention.

Reviving my fiber arts business has made me personally reflect on my life experiences, not only as a business person, but also on my career as a yarn shop owner and yarn dyer. Most of my experiences are good and only very few laden with the self-doubt that usually is involved with being a person of color in any realm of life. What does that all mean? Well, let me share a little bit of that with you today.




First, A Brief Sociology Lesson 

Although I was born in Florida, I have spent most of my life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and its suburbs. Milwaukee competes with other major cities each year being one of the most segregated cities in the country.

That doesn’t necessarily mean what most people think it means; it means that there are pocket communities within the city itself, but it also means that there is a lot of racial disparities, class/caste divides, and a ton of stereotypes about ANYONE and EVERYONE flying around.

Race is actually a social construct, so the definition of being a person of color has changed throughout history. Being black usually meant being an “undesirable” or “unacceptable”. It didn’t always mean African American, but included a number of ethnicities that now would be classified as Caucasian or White. It is because of that fact – and my personal family genetics – that I do not personally identify as black, but as either “other” or “mixed race”.

So WHAT are you?!

Sassy answer: I’m a superhero.

Semi-sassy answer: I’m human.

Real answer: There isn’t a real answer. I don’t fit into a nice and neat category and that bugs A LOT of people. My father’s family is Jamaican and Costa Rican with history that can be traced back to a dude that got kicked out of Ireland (What the hell do you have to do to get kicked out of Ireland?! ). On my mother’s side there’s (*deep breath*) German, French, Swiss, Native American, Chinese, and somewhere, buried deep is a couple drops of African American.




As a result of that cocktail of nationalities, this All-American Navy brat has “frotastic” curly hair, freckles, and white chocolate, mocha-colored skin with olive undertones (thanks to my Costa Rican familia). All that European background means I have some blonde hair mixed in to my deep brown and ZERO booty to shake, but all the other bass clef, Marilyn Monroe-esque curves.

My kids are various shades of beige ranging from “glow in the dark” to caramel latte. Ola has auburn/red curly hair, Sharky always looks pale, and Peanut was born with Royal Blue eyes (which has changed to a gorgeous shade of hazel).

But This is 2017! How does being a POC effect your fiber arts business?!

Meh, most days, it doesn’t. Seriously, I’ve been #blessed beyond words. My regular customers are wonderful and I have no complaints. In fact, I would argue that the fiber arts industry is much more open-minded than the rest of the country, probably why fiber artists have been the face of a lot of different social change movements both recently (think pink hats and knit/crochet uteri) and in the past. Remember, the road to change is paved with yarn.

Most of the effects are self-inflicted, but I have had some experiences that shape how I personally choose to do business. How?

    1. I refuse to be a patron to businesses that show obvious bias against me personally or my business. Not naming names, but outside of the fiber arts industry, there are some hotels that I will not stay at because of terrible service as the result of my perceived race and also because of my gender. One chain even went so far as to not return my calls when I filed a complaint, but they would return my then husband’s calls within minutes of his voicemails.It was only months later, when I filed a public review of management’s treatment of me and had the credit card company reverse charges, did I receive a call, which went something like, “You can’t possibly think we discriminated against you. Come stay with us again, free of charge, and we’ll change your mind.” To which I responded, “You couldn’t pay me enough to make me want to stay there again. Money is not something that motivates me.” *click*
    2. I am actively inclusive of ALL people. Hey, I may not always be able to properly vocalize how much of a neutral person I am, but seriously, everyone who isn’t a danger to me or my family is welcome in my proverbial store and is welcome to a hug if we ever meet in person. I also started out with silent tutorials to be inclusive of my hearing impaired audience.
    3. I pledge to get in front of the camera more so that people of color can have a fiber arts hero that looks like them, even if I didn’t.  My new motto these days, “If you can’t find a hero that looks like you, be that hero.” I am working on building up my self-esteem to get in front of the camera and introduce myself to you personally. See the person behind the knitting and crocheting hands and the personality behind the crass and sass.

We don’t always get to see people of color in fiber arts, so it can lead to a lot of self-consciousness for those of us to don’t fit the mold of stereotypical knitter or crocheter.Since knit and crochet design also fits into the realm of fashion, I need to get out and represent the curvy-hipped, larger-bosomed ladies like myself. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and colors of the rainbow, and I want OMG Yarn to reflect that vision. I’m totally ok with you and want you to be ok with you too!




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Moving Onward and Upward: “Resist” Beanie Pattern Now Available on Ravelry

March 21, 2017

I can be fierce and I can be strong. I stand in solidarity with my re-sisters.

International Women’s Day was on March 8th, so now what? Do we just go back to the inequity, lack of support and less than human treatment from before that day or do we plunge ahead with the call to make things better for all women?




I, personally, would like to see a better world for all three of my kids, not just my daughter. I have two very intelligent, caring sons and a beautiful daughter who would all like to see a world of possibilities for everyone in their lives.

As a business owner in an industry that is characteristically female, I would like to commit OMG Yarn and myself to the empowerment of other women seeking equality.

Let’s stop marginalizing women and their accomplishments. There was nothing I hated more than hearing, “Oh your husband must be a great accountant,” when I would talk about the success of my little yarn shop and other business endeavors. I earned my Masters in Business Administration when I was 24 years old. That was after completing a 4-year education in only 3.5 years at a competitive school. Did I mention I was there on a full scholarship based on academics? Do you see how I had to qualify that?

When you look at the statistics, African American women lead the way as the most educated group in America. So yea, as a group, they’re fiercely killing it, but still experiencing institutional racism, misogyny, wage gaps, injustice in the legal system, and much more than I care to share. Not right. Right?

Let’s stop shaming women for their choices. Every day, we make choices and someone is always standing there to shame us. Whether it’s the choice to work versus be a stay at home mom or any other choice, every woman deserves support, whether you think they’re deserving of it or not. I have translated for a patient who wanted to report a domestic violence nightmare. I have held hands in support of undocumented women experiencing the horrors of escaping oppression in their home country only to witness worse here. I don’t judge anyone for what they do and that goes a long way for bridging gaps.




So let’s support women for all that they do. The single moms holding down three jobs and going to school to make a better life for their children, my hat’s off to you. The mothers marching against injustice, my hat’s off to you. The women who make our lives brighter and more beautiful in every way, my hat’s off to you.

The top of the hat is a beautiful spiral.

I’m not just saying all this either. I do what I can to raise awareness through the arts. I always have and always will.

To show my ongoing commitment to the cause of women’s rights and the craftivism movement, I created the Resist Beanie. Honestly, I was inspired by the hard work of Donna Druchunas, a knit designer I have admired for some time.

The Resist Beanie is a crocheted hat with a filet crochet brim that spells out the word “resist” in filet crochet. With spring and summer fast approaching, the need for a lighter, cotton hat to support change has come up. Though it fits the average-sized head snugly, this hat is light, comfortable, and breathable, ideal for warmer weather. A portion of the proceeds from this pattern will be used to support local causes for the resistance, including small businesses that are mostly female-owned/operated.




The pattern is on sale through my Ravelry Store here. It is my new favorite hat and I’ve been wearing it since I finished it a few days ago.

I can be fierce and I can be strong. I stand in solidarity with my re-sisters.

I am committing to making the world a little bit more awesome for the next generation, and the road will be paved with yarn.

References.

Stewart, K. (2016, May 27). Black Women Are Now America’s Most Educated Group. Retrieved March 21, 2017, from http://www.upworthy.com/black-women-are-now-americas-most-educated-group.