Greer, Betsy (ed.) (2014). Craftivism. Vancouver, BC: Arsenal Pulp Press.
Betsy Greer and the wave of craft-focused and DIY-focused activists did not–by their own admission–in any way originate the concept of process-based utilitarian art for a cause. there have been many movements which demand participants create art or utilitarian symbols of resistance. Examples include :
- the Phrygian Cap worn by French revolutionaries
- Gandhi’s Indian Independence movement’s advocacy of wearing only homespun cloth ,
- AIDS activism in the 1980s which originated the Names Project quilt.
While the name is new, the concept of combining craft and politics clearly isn’t novel. So what specific qualifications and background do Greer and the other “craftivists” in Craftivism (2014; Arsenal Pulp Press) bring to the table?
Betsy Greer’s central qualification to edit this kind of book is her long involvement in 21st century movements around using art for political purposes, and her social ties to other artists. Her thesis, for her M.A in Sociology from Goldsmiths College, focused on “knitting, DIY culture, and community development.” According to the foreword of her book, she originated the phrase “craftivism” in the early 2000s. For close to two decades, she has worked to collect and publicize efforts to use community crafting and art to make statements, raise money for causes, or interrupt public life with performance. A 2011 article in the San Francisco Bay Guardian describes Greer as an “anti-sweatshop activist”. Since 2003, she has operated craftivism.com, a domain which publishes interviews with activists, such as Elizabeth Shefrin of the Middle East Peace Quilt. A 2017 New Yorker article interviewed her while analyzing the origin and import of the ubiquitous anti-Trump “pussy hat” created by hand and worn during protests of Trump’s inauguration.
The other artists featured in Craftivism come from a variety of backgrounds. Varvara Guljajeva, for example, comes from a formal arts background in digital art and uses combinations of technology to create his pieces, which are knitted works that map images of sound waves or brain activity.
Another artist, Gabriel Craig, is a metalsmith whose work has been exhibited at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art museum in Washington, DC. Others are less polished but engaged in community activism, like Lauren O’Farrell, who is the founder of Knit The City, a knitting graffiti collective in London. The strength of this book is in its diversity of contributors. Gallery owners, eco-activists and writers, fashion designers, and more all weigh in on the meaning of political engagement and accessible, useful art in their lives.