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The Feministing Five: Artists of “Nasty Stitches”

What happens when traditionally domestic “women’s craft” like fabric and embroidery work gets political?

At Victori + Mo gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn, an exhibition by women artists called “Nasty Stitches” celebrates the political dimensions of these mediums to explore gender, artistry, and empowerment. “Nasty Stitches” includes work by Caroline Wells Chandler, Elsa Hansen, Katrina Majkut, and Sara Sachs. Weaving together these different artists’ approaches to fabric and embroidery, the exhibition presents a new look at how these “women’s” mediums are being reclaimed and reworked both politically and otherwise. As the gallery website states, “Framed within the larger context of contemporary American politics, where non-conforming bodies, reproductive rights, and sexual health are under attack, the works presented in the exhibition are all the more powerful.”

For this week’s Feministing Five, I caught up with the five artists of “Nasty Stitches” about their influences, reclaiming domestic arts, and the relationship between politics and creativity. You can catch “Nasty Stitches” on view at Victori + Mo until July 23rd.

Senti Sojwal: How would you describe your work and artistry?

Elsa Hansen: My work involves ‘weaving’ stories through the traditional women’s work of hand embroidery and hand quilting.

nastystitches2Sara Sachs: I try to get the viewer to do a double take…i.e., look a second time at what at first appears to be a conventional needlework piece only to have an unexpected subject revealed.

Katrina Majkut: I’m interested in modernizing embroidery through incorporating contemporary imagery. I use classic painting techniques in order to create freeform cross-stitched still lifes.

Caroline Chandler: Katherine Bradford told me that my work was, “Zany yet profound.”  Maria Calandra told me that my work was, “Like a visitation.”  I like both of those descriptions.

Senti Sojwal: Where do you draw your inspiration these days?

Elsa Hansen: The subject and subject-groupings come in overlapping waves.  The inspirations for them, I mean.  Similarly, they come from overlapping spaces and times.  It’s unnecessary to discriminate against a source of ideas.  Even the fabric itself can suggest the future life of a piece.  I might be looking for a connection between personas, or I might be illuminating the connections I see.  Kanye and Sisyphus?  Isn’t that terrific?  I can ride that wire til the cows come home.

Sara Sachs: My inspiration runs the gamut from ordinary objects to rare or unusual images but they have in common that they would never be the subject of traditional needlework.

nasty stitches3Katrina Majkut: Interacting with people is a huge source of inspiration (I might be the only artist who wants people to tell them what to stitch!). By listening to their physical and health needs or their stories, I hear about products or items that I might not be aware because of my limited demographic perspective. I love the intersectionality this process lends to my practice and artwork. News events and advertising are really powerful influencers too; for example, I learned about PrEP + Condoms on the New York subway and the news regarding sexual assault on campus the last few years made me realize that should be part of my series In Control too.

Caroline Chandler: I’m inspired by memories of growing up in the South, my friends, the ancient, 1970’s cults, the occult, children’s art, my imagination, the love of my life, fancy beer, and psychedelia.

Senti Sojwal: What is the significance for you of using fabric and embroidery work to explore political and gendered issues?

Elsa Hansen: It is a privilege to explore gender just by doing what comes naturally.  I’m doing what I want to do (if I’m going to do anything) and I’m occupying postures and positions that billions of females occupied before and continue to occupy.  But that’s a gift from the work to me and not crucial to my conscious motivations.

Sara Sachs: Needle work’s provenance is the sewing circles of yore whose participants lacked a political voice. My work attempts to empower today’s descendants of those old time stitchers.

Katrina Majkut: Embroidery is stereotypically thought of as a women’s domestic craft. In my own experience and research, the images that are commonly in embroidery helped to create very specific identities for women as they relate to what it means to be a woman, a wife and a mother but it never included their physical requirements. The physicality of those roles are inseparable from fulfilling them, so I set out to include them in embroidery.

Caroline Chandler: I find it really interesting that the etymology of the word queer is ‘twerka’ which means twisted.  Crochet is a process in which lines are twisted, and I find the construction of crochet which is a process by which lines are twisted to be intrinsically linked to the subject matter of my work which explores queerness and the figure outside of the heteronormative cis gaze.

Senti Sojwal: Is the current presidential administration / climate pushing you to think about your art and work in a new or different way?

Elsa Hansen: I’m increasingly aware that those elected to office will come and go.  Unless they kill most or all of us (which is plausible, I’m told), we will continue to effectively rule ourselves.  Things, though, are charged now.  An image I stitched two years ago, not to mention anything I am stitching now, is bearing more weight in this current reality since we are so desperate to find reasons.

Sara Sachs: Among the many things that are threatening about the current disheartening political environment is the attempt to silence women (e.g., Kamilla Miller) and have them revert to their voiceless places in the sewing circles of the past.

Katrina Majkut: Not really, if anything the current political climate just confirms that my art is headed in the right direction. However, I just recently started thinking about how my artwork relates to democracy – if you think about it as the pursuit of social equality through an open market that’s influenced by free choice and embroidery as its form of representation.

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Caroline Chandler: No. I’m from the South.  The current administration has been a real possibility from the get go. Most of my family members voted for Trump. On some level their most cherished beliefs have inspired me to make the work that I make.

Senti Sojwal: Where can Feministing readers find you and your work?

Elsa Hansen: On my website at elsahansen.com, or at Simon Dickinson Gallery.

Sara Sachs: My website: sarasachsart.com

Katrina Majkut:  www.KatrinaMajkut.com (Twitter, Instagram), TheFeministBride.com (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)

Caroline Chandler: Now, at “Nasty Stitches”,  for Pride and up until October, my work will be on display at the Wythe Hotel in the lobby curated by the Kimia Ferdowsi Kline.  n late October, my next solo project ‘Orange Sunshine’ will be at Andrew Rafcza in Chicago. I have a website that sometimes gets updated but has a lot of funky strata: www.carolinewellschandler.com.  

NYC

Senti Sojwal is an India born, NYC bred writer, reproductive justice activist, and feminist organizer. She graduated with a BA from Hampshire College in Gender Studies & Politics, and has worked with NARAL, The Civil Liberties & Public Policy Program and its sister program PopDev, and has written on feminist issues for Mic, Bustle, and What NOW, the blog of the National Organization for Women's NYC chapter. She currently works at Sakhi for South Asian Women, an advocacy organization that supports immigrant survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence through an array of culturally competent services and programs. Senti loves 90s pop, a bold lip, and is always hunting for the perfectly spicy Bloody Mary. She lives in Brooklyn.

Senti Sojwal is a writer, reproductive justice activist, and feminist organizer based in Brooklyn, New York.

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