I frequently get questions as to why it is so important to me to invest in political and social issues with so many of my quilts. I am told that is not where the market is at and I am just doing myself harm. At times I am even admonished for being political at all. I’ve been told that quilters just want to make pretty stuff, so I would be well advised to give the issues a rest and get back to making things for Bee and Baby Rabbit, because that is what people want to see and hear about.
Personally I think all that advice is flat out wrong. I think that quilters, or at least so many of them do care about the deeper implications of quilting. Our politics may differ, but we are all invested in something. Heck, that is so much of the reason for making, at least from my perspective; makers feel compared to speak about something with what they make, whether it be overtly political or something deeply personal.
As I’ve said before, I think every quilt is fundamentally political; the decision to make rather than buy is embedded in an important perspective on meaning, value, and significance. Each and every quilt is an investment in the idea that making (and giving) matters. As such when I talk about things being political I don’t so much mean that left/right, liberal/conservative divide that seems so polarizing; I am referring more to the Aristotalian notion that “man is a political animal.” What we make is in some very fundamental ways motivated by our beliefs.
It is based on that background understanding that I feel compelled to infuse what I make with social and political meaning, otherwise I don’t really know how to make. My work covers a wide range from the subtle to the overt, but nearly everything I make comes from that space where art, craft, message, and meaning come together. To be honest I think that is intrinsically true of all making, but for me it is an explicit part of my practice.
So, you might ask why I am writing about this again today; I do seem to cover this territory with some regularity. First, I do believe that it is worth looking at with some regularity. But, more importantly, I was given a reminder this morning just why I do what I do. As I was out running a few errands I ended up behind someone sporting this bumper sticker (this photo is borrowed, but it is of the same bumper sticker):
While it’s basic intend may be to announce a certain pride in American manufacturing, the means by which it does so is fundamentally jingoistic and racist. It denigrates an entire people, reducing one group to a cultural stereotype while explicitly demarking a professed cultural superiority. Now I’ll likely never see that person’s truck again, but it is just that blithely racist tendency that I see so often, one that is mirrored in the rampant gender stereotyping that remains so incredibly prevalent that motivates me every day.
Do I think I am going to change the world? No. Do I think I might reach a few people? Perhaps. Regardless though, this is what compels me to make, the fact that those voices remain so profoundly present, that such slogans are used so easily without regard or even thought. I see so much of my work as being about making the implicit explicit, bringing to the fore the issues that sit just beneath the surface of our every day.
Maybe I am wrong, and there is not a market for all of this, for the more esoteric reaches of making, but I think there is. It may never be a huge market, but I don’t need one. I am looking for those who are passionately invested, those who are looking for more, who can’t help but speak. Luckily I have found a lot of you thus far, but even if I hadn’t I think I’d still be doing just what I do, perpetually pushing to go that one step further until I figure out just what it is that I am trying to do, and then I’ll move on to the next level. Just know this: as long as people are sporting bumper stickers like that one, I’ll be here doing what I do, quietly yelling in the dark, and hopefully I will continue to have professional partners who will continue with me as I do so…