Craftivism: The Power Of A Knitting Needle – International Women’s Day 2022 – By Ravid Rubner
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Craftivism, “Craft” welded to “Activism”, is a radical suggestion to break free of the known esthetic and stereotypic patterns of activism, and to use craft to express protest. At first sight, it might seem like an oxymoron: activism is identified with young people shouting into megaphones while carrying banners on the streets, while craft is identified with old women ornamenting their homes and dressing their families. Activism is perceived as something hard, callous, violent, while craft is perceived as soft, refined and non-violent by nature. How is it possible to express a political, social, economic and gender view through craft?
In 2012 a craftivist protest roused against regulation by the American government of women bodies, i.e. compulsion to undergo a sonogram before having an abortion. Instead of marching in the streets or sending raging letters, a group of activists asked women to send knitted uterus dolls to congressmen, with the message “Get your hands off my uterus! Here is one for you!”
The dolls dispatched a powerful message: women don’t need men to take decisions regarding their bodies. When the visual expression isn’t violent, but even humoristic, the official institutions don’t have any tools to fight it. What can be done against a woolen uterus?
The Pussyhat, a pink knitted hat with cat ears, was born in protest to the sexist words of US former president, Trump, “Grab’em by the pussy”. The protest initiators published a hat pattern online and asked women to come to the march wearing the hat they knitted, or to knit for other women. On Trump’s Presidential Inauguration, about a hundred thousand pussyhats appeared on the streets. Their free, colorful, and mischievous design was in sharp contrast to the uniform “Make America Great Again” hat chanted by Trump’s supporters. Pussyhats were free style, uniting all women in a joint statement but leaving a large range of freedom for design expression. Contrary to picket signs, written in haste and thrown away after the demonstration, knitting a pussyhat takes several hours, and it needs no words. The technique embodies the determination, the patience and the perseverance of the creative-activist-wearing-the-hat woman.
“Yarn Bombing” is another type of craftivism. It is a type of knitting intended to cover objects in the urban space, like poles, trees, benches, and sculptures, usually in strong colors and wide stripes. Sometimes a yarn bombing carries a clear activist message. One example is the “Pink M.24 Chaffee Tank project”, by the Danish artist Marianne Jørgensen, from 2006. In protest of the participation of the United States, Britain, and Denmark in the Iraq War, Jørgensen covered a tank from the Second World War with a quilt-blanket made of 4000 15×15 cm squares, knitted with pink wool. The squares were knitted in the three fighting countries by supporters of Jørgensen’s protest. Each square carried the individual signature of the knitter, having different wool thickness, different pink shades, and different knitting density.
The criticism lays in the tension between the metallic coarse tank and the pink, soft knitting. To enhance this tension, Jørgensen added a sort of woolen shell, hanging helplessly from the cannon’s barrel.
But even without the intention to express protest against a certain subject, every yarn bombing contains a subversive dimension, as it takes the women’s craft out into the public space. Women’s craft is considered inferior to high arts and is not shown in museums of art. Presenting it in the public space is a protest the inferiority that was associated with it. Also, knitting on urban objects like light poles and direction road signs, adds warmth, joy, and cuteness to the city. Women use tools that historically contributed to their restriction in their homes, in order to oppose the purposefulness and the alienation that characterize the modern urban space.
When men are involved in craftivism, protest takes on a new look. A perfect example of men craftivism was demonstrated by Tom Daley, the British diver, when in between the events at the Tokyo Olympics 2020 he sat knitting. Since then he opened an Instagram page with lots of followers where he shows his work, including a knitted cardigan bearing the Olympics logo and a knitted box adorned with the British flag to keep his Gold medal. When Daley knits he undermines the genderism and the ageism associated with craft and calls for a change of consciousness.
Crafting is an important addition to activism. Conventional activism is a fast action usually containing short verbal messages, shouts, and marches, and eventually also trash after the rallies. Craftivism is the contrast of this method of protest. It is a silent protest impacting patience and tolerance. It acts through construction and union, it is gradual and slow, it uses soft materials and it is there to stay long after the rally has ended.