Monday, August 11, 2008

The Colors of Craft

This posting could ask why crafters of color aren't more visible – but that question has been asked so many times of so many arenas, over so many years.  It's an important, relevant question, but not the most interesting one.  

The more interesting question is why the craft aesthetic is so uniform. The overwhelming images are of 1950s and 1960s kitsch – brightly colored, geometric (mostly round) shapes, and semi-ironic pictures of women in dresses with crinoline.  In fact, lots of "craft" reminds me of what a Washington Post journalist once said about USA Today: "Just like Fisher Price toys, it's appropriate for small children - all bright colors and soft edges."  The particular nostalgia shown in these craft motifs reinforces stereotypes about gender, race, class and sexuality.  And if the bored housewife theme isn't your thing, it's also monotonous and annoying.

Bright colors and softness are great – but where is everything else? Where are the objects that aren't afraid to speak a direct message, that draw on more recent - or older - inspirations, the ones with a darker sense of humor, some sharp and pointy edges?

That's why Crafty Chica is so refreshing.  Kathy Cano-Murillo's empire (you think that word is too vast?  The Chica's got products in Michael's, her own crafty cruise, a web-video show, and an eye-popping website to tell you all about it!  Check out craftychica.com) – Where were we?  Her empire is awesome – and it's based on a wide variety of crafts, many of which draw on her Chicana cultura.  She'll give you directions to DIY Day of the Dead altars and sell you Latina Power Bracelets and Mighty Mujer Purses.  And she'll also tell you about her "Hip Home D├ęcor," ribbon frames, and a multitude of ideas that aren't as culturally-specific.

There's a sincerity, a joy in her website that makes you think Crafty Chica is just being herself – making things based on whatever inspiration hits her in the moment.  In a recent post, she wrote  "Empanada pin cushions! After seeing so many fiber artists have their way with cupcake pincushions, I thought I'd throw a little needle love to Mexican puff pastries."  She points out a trend that could be read as benign, annoying, and/or ethnocentric, but instead of dwelling on it, she does her own thing.  Craft on!

With a little hunting (and a lot of looking at pages other folks' link to), JJS found some other poc crafters with a little edge.  You can start with the Black Crafters Guild, based in Canada, which features folks who make jewelry, paper, soap, "edible art," and other crafty types - blackcrafters.ning.com – Some individual sites are:  SistahCraft (for needlework) - sistahcraft.typepad.com – and Black Purl magazine – in print and online at www.black-purl-magazine.com - Are the knitters and crochet-ers more organized or just more searchable than other crafty types?  And where are the API (Asian/Pacific/Islander), Arab, and Native crafters?  Drop a comment and tell JJS about other crafty poc.

So remember those questions about invisibility and racism?  As tired as these questions are, they continue to exist because the inequities that cause them continue to exist.  In a brief post at http://www.sheeptoshawl.com/blog/index.php?blogid=1&query=crafting  blogger Donna Druchunas asks "Is the crafting world prejudiced?  It's good that a self-described "pasty-skinned" person is asking this question.  It's good that people all over and of all backgrounds continue to ask these questions, and it's even better when they try to answer them or try to change the existing answers.  JJS does a lot of that off the 'net, so this space looks more at how race and other issues function within art than at how they function in larger societies.  Ok, ok, here's an answer:

Crafters of color are everywhere – you can see them on the subway knitting or crocheting.  You will see them in craft stores buying their supplies.  You may see them less often in classes, galleries, and museums, and hardly at all in the media, markets, or on the internet – that web that's so wide you get lost in it and forget what you were looking for.  This marginalization, this invisibility is about access and money and who owns and controls what.  It's true that story's been told; unfortunately, it repeats itself over and over so that it must be told again and again.