10 People Who Use Crafting For Activism

“The creation of things by hand leads to a better understanding of democracy, because it reminds us that we have power.”

Craftivism: The Art and Craft of Activism, edited by Betsy Greer, features the work of dozens of people activating through handmade objects.

Courtesy of Arsenal Pulp Press

It explores projects that are deeply personal, ones that are directly political, and ones that engage and involve entire communities. They range from the (physically) tiny to the staggeringly large, but each one has its own meaningful impact.

1. Sayraphim Lothian’s Guerilla Kindness Project

Sayraphim Lothian / Courtesy of Arsenal Pulp Press

The artist leaves foam cupcakes around Melbourne for strangers to find, “aimed at creating tiny bubbles of joy in the lives of passersby, tiny surreal moments that might make people do a double take.”

2. Significant Seams

Mark Burton / Courtesy of Arsenal Pulp Press

Catherine West’s E17 Neighborhood Quilt is a map of her community in East London. Over 100 local residents offered their stories and participated the project, and 64 contributed patches to be stitched into the quilt. West asked her neighbors to fingerprint where they lived with a bottle of gold fabric paint.

3. Kim Werker’s Ugly Doll

Kim Werker / Courtesy of Arsenal Pulp Press

The Mighty Ugly project is about making things that are ugly on purpose, “in a continuing effort to challenge our definitions, perceptions, and expectations of failure.” Creator Kim Werker has a whole book coming out on the subject in 2014, if you’re moved to make some of your own (very liberating) failure-successes.

4. Carrie Reichardt’s Subversive Mosaics

Mark Baker / Courtesy of Arsenal Pulp Press

Reichardt works with ceramic tiles to create both public and private works of political art, focusing on a range of issues including unjust imprisonment and the new colonial wars.

“Issues such as the death penalty are usually polemic,” she writes, “and people already have entrenched views on the subject. The beauty of craftivism is that it hooks into a primitive part of our psyche, and that challenges the viewer both emotionall and intellectually.”

5. Embroidery, Cross-Stitch, and Needlepoint as Activism

Jamie Chalmers / Courtesy of Arsenal Pulp Press

Fine Cell Work teaches prisoners needlecraft, helping to bring them “a sense of purpose…and a sense of joy.” There are many other artists and groups working with the power of cross-stitch and other needle arts; as Jamie Chalmers (otherwise known as Mr. X Stitch) writes, “cross-stitch is inherently populist and can be made and enjoyed by all. This is the root of its greatness.”

6. The Blood Bag Project

Leigh Bowser / Courtesy of Arsenal Pulp Press

Leigh Bowser creates, and encourages others to make, textile blood bags in order to raise awareness of a rare blood disorder. It’s called Diamond Blackfan Anemia, or DBA, and one of the 700 people who suffers from it worldwide is her three-year-old niece, Chloe.

7. L.J. Robert’s Queer Craft Project

L.J. Roberts / Courtesy of Arsenal Pulp Press

This piece, entitled Portrait of Deb 1988-199?, is a single-strand embroidery that serves as an important reminder that AIDS is still a vital, important issue: it’s a replica of a collection that once belonged to a friend’s activist ex-partner.

“When I transform Deb’s objects from paper and plastic into textile collage,” they write, “my choice of material references queer and feminist histories.”

8. Mila Burcikova’s Real Time Fashion

Mila Burcikova / Courtesy of Arsenal Pulp Press

Mila Burcikova blends fabrics that are old and new, traditional and non-traditional. She makes clothing that’s both intimately familiar yet organic and new, while eliminating the waste and speed that’s come to characterize a large part of the fashion industry.

“It’s the bond between the past, present, and future,” she writes, “that makes fashion so fascinating.”

9. Maria Molteni’s Cure for Empty Net Syndrome

Pat Falco / Courtesy of Arsenal Pulp Press

Molteni works with New Craft Artists in Action to make handcrafted basketball nets for abandoned hoops, which “draw[s] attention to expressive potential of these spaces while critiquing commercially focused professional athletic institutions.”

10. Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet’s Knitted Car

Varvara Guljajeva / Courtesy of Arsenal Pulp Press

This incredible knitting duo made a car, named the “Kombi” after the first vehicle produced in Brazil, to call attention to how other drivers treat the environment. It’s also “a statement of pedestrians’ rights in the city [of Belo Horizante], which are not enough respected by drivers.” Because of this, they “had to get a car in order to get equal treatment by the other vehicles.”

For more information on these projects plus many others, grab a copy of Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism, available now.

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