The Art of Craft and Activism
One massive challenge many creative people face, including myself, is an internal conflict about the purpose of their creative work. While some people spend their lives training in medical and scientific professions (who are artists in their own right, no doubt), the visual artists and creators of the world eventually arrive at a moment where they fear their work may be futile. Not enough. Inconsequential.
Even worse, those around them may wonder why they sit in their workshops or studios all day, fiddling about with markers, fabrics, paints, or photo processing chemicals. They may criticize or discourage them from pursuing creative expression.
“What’s it all for? Is creativity enough? How can we justify ‘making pretty things’ all day when there is so much wrong with the world?” Those are some of the questions I’ve asked myself in the past while working on Bombay Mermaid Trading Co., or even producing content for this blog.
The universe has a way of answering our toughest questions at the right moment, however, and Craftivism fell into my hands at the same time this artistic existential crisis was unfolding in my life.
This book, which officially launches today, is a celebration of the way hand craft and creativity of all genres has launched movements, changed viewpoints, and perhaps most crucially, helped people in need.
You may recall the more popular craftivist movements and revolutionaries in recent history, like Marianne Jorgensen, the Danish artist who covered an army tank with a huge pink quilt to protest the Iraq war, or the Craftivism Collective’s Love Fashion Hate Sweatshops campaign that launched during Fashion Week.
The introduction, by craftivism pioneer Betsy Greer, examines whether “activism” has to be an audacious or violent act to have real impact. She recalls two puppets portraying George W. Bush and Al Gore parading through the East Village on Halloween night, pre-9-11, and how the crowd’s jovial cheers had reduced to an apprehensive hush while the puppets passed by:
“I had always thought that activism had to be loud and in-your-face. Maybe the quietness of the puppets resonated with the quietness of the knitting, but it made me think about quiet activism and how craft could be a part of it.”
The book features the work both whimsical—like Guerrilla Kindness, a campaign centered around leaving works of art in public places for people to enjoy—and more intense, like the groups of Chilean arpilleristas who embroider and collage the tragedy their families suffered under the totalitarian Pinochet regime. There are projects that will bring tears to your eyes, like The Blood Bag Project and Quilts of Valor, and some that will inspire and excite you, like Mila Burcikova‘s recycled clothing company.
With the release of this book, I am reminded of the people in my own life who may not be at the front lines of revolution in the literal sense, but are very much changing the world:
My friends Lauren and Athena, for instance, who both work tirelessly in New York and New Jersey enriching the lives of school kids with art and music programs. My favorite copywriter and author, Alexandra, who routinely donates proceeds from her events and products to organizations that empower women around the world.
While revolutions are no joke and often involve bloodshed, there’s a new, modern kind of revolution. It starts in your heart, just like all other revolutions, but it manifests itself in your sewing room, on your canvas, and in your creative community. Your end product could educate, anger, feed and clothe people, open eyes and minds…
Thanks to the shrinking global community and the internet in general, it has never been more possible to reach out to the world through your creative work—and let’s not forget that aside from revolution, change, and progress through art, it is also one of the most universally recognized forms of therapy, healing, and paths to self-awareness. No art, no craft, is meaningless if it comes genuinely.
If this book taught me anything, it’s that you can’t let anyone talk you down from reaching out through your creativity, or undermine the importance of what you do. Let ’em talk, but know that every stitch, every brush stroke, every loop around that knitting needle can be life-changing and important. You get to decide.
Craft on! And grab a copy of this book, asap.