Women, and the female figure, havebeen a dominate subject matter throughout art history, however due tobreakthroughs in feminism especially in relation to art, the idea of womenbeing merely a spectacle for the male gaze is slowly becoming a thing of the past.This is evident when comparing female nudes from ‘great masters’ such asRembrandt to more contemporary examples of female nudes such as the work ofCogan. Second Wave feminism bought around a change in perspective in particularto the idea of women’s sexuality and the freedom to express this. Rather thanthe female figure being painted as an object for the male gaze to admire, as inRembrandt’s Danaë: Cogan describes her work as the’figures, often female heroines, allude to their anxieties, insecurities,vanities and desires through visual narratives.’ This therefore, gives theimpression that it is the woman’s choice to be viewed, to be vulnerable; ratherthan a decision made for her by a man.The feminist artmovement, led to a revolution of ideas and practices. No longer were womendenied agency, not just in craft practices but in the whole of the mainstreamart world.
‘Denial of agency, pollution of agency, isolation and falsecategorization are all examples of silencing women’s writing’, originallydescribed by Joanna Russ in How toSuppress Women’s Writing. However, parallels can be seen between writingand art, in that ‘women throughout history were often denied not onlyrecognition but also access to art institutions as men, making their full participationin the art world impossible.'(Dougal) Meaning women, and women’s art have beenclassed as second class. This is an issue often discussed by feminist writers,such as Nochlin whose essay ‘Why Are There No Great Women Artists?’, points outthat this idea is not due to a lack of talent when it comes to female artistsbut due to the hegemony of men in art.
According tocraftivism.com ‘Craftivism is the practice of engaged creativity, especiallyregarding political and social causes. It is a way of looking at life wherevoicing your opinion through creativity makes your voice stronger.’ However,this is a relatively new term, coined at the start of the 21stCentury by writer Betsy Greer, no doubt influenced by the feminist art movementof the 1960’s and 1970’s. The feminist art movement saw a breakdown of thehierarchy of art forms, with previously undervalued practice such as thedomestic crafts no longer seen as lower art forms.
The female artists at theforefront of this movement included Judy Chicago and Louise Bourgeois. The ideas of feminism and craft seem to be firmly hand in hand as thisis a concept that continued through third wave feminism of the 1990’s, evidentin the work of artists such as Tracey Emin, who draws on her own experiences ofsexuality, vulnerability and femininity. For example her work ‘To Meet my Past'(2002), where she not only references earlier work such as ‘My Bed'(1999) butagain reveals much about her own struggles throughout her life, usingtechniques classed as ‘craft’ rather than ‘fine art’ including appliqué andneedlework, indicating the important and evident links between feminism andcraft as a form of expression of prejudice and oppression.
Perhaps Emin’s ownawareness of this connection is through calling the work ‘To Meet my Past’ –indicating towards taking inspiration from previous generations of women using’craft’ to express and raise awareness of their own oppression. However, it must benoted, despite the growing acceptance of craft practices in the mainstream artworld, artists such as Tracey Emin and Grayson Perry, who adopt such techniquesin their practices, undertook degrees in fine art rather than ones in craftpractices. (Miller) Despite this, some of Emin’s most recognisable work is thatwhich adopts craft practices, especially hand sewn appliqué. Yes, she is stilla drawer, painter, printmaker but her textile works seem to have just as much conceptualmeaning as her more ‘fine’ art practices. The importance of mentioning this isthat Emin doesn’t see a difference or hierarchy between the practices as sheexplains ‘That’s why I use a lot of embroidery, I takethis craft but I don’t treat it like a craft, but like high art.’ (Emin)It could then be argued that craft practices are now accepted in the mainstreamart world.
Another of the major ideas supported not just by Craftivism but also thefeminist art movement is the idea of collaborative working practices. This isthe idea that women would organize small gatherings, otherwise known as’consciousness-raising groups in which collective conversations began toilluminate broader patterns of discrimination.’ (Phelan) Often these groupsinvolved women carrying out handicrafts as well.
However, there is proof ofthese types of gatherings happening even before the feminist art movement andsecond wave feminism. For example, ‘during the Japanese occupation of Singaporebetween 1942 and 1945, female prisoners of war were able to create quilts as itwas seen as merely a craft practice and a way to elevate boredom and raisemorale.'(https://www.awm.gov.au) However, the making of the quilts caused thisand so much more, it became a way in which prisoners could send secret messagesto loved ones.
This again shows how craft practices and women, have beenundervalued and overlooked in terms of art and politics. As with Judy Chicago’swork of the 1970’s, these quilts show that ‘art can have a distinctly politicalpurpose and have quite a provocative means of getting across ideas.'(Dougal)