Julia and I are working in her studio during the weekend of the Women’s March on Washington, January 21st, 2017.
I’m thinking about making as a process of thinking and inevitably how all creative acts are political. We’ve each brought materials to put together a large, collaborative, fabric collage. It is a kind of soft scrap book of our respective thoughts and ideas. Even though we spent grad school together in each other’s studios, we have very different practices so we come to the table with distinct notions about how to make work.
Julia lays out a metallic, silver stretch fabric and a paper bag full of vintage cotton doilies. I’m excited about the prospect of integrating our materials for something unexpected and giving up a bit of control.
I have brought a screen printed t-shirt of Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter that I picked up at a thrift store last year, knowing full well I would never wear it. The iconic image is boldly recognizable. It was one of the first “feminist” images I came across when my mom had inside a wall clock hanging in the computer department she managed.
“I really have a problem with that yellow” says Julia as I try to cut around the image to assemble pieces for our collage. I tried to cut around the offensive tone and match it against less abrasive colors.
“Actually, its something else” says Julia as she re-arranges the fabric fragments. “It’s the arm. I don’t understand why we have to have a raised arm to imply strength.”
I stare at the imagery laid out in front of us. In addition to being a college professor, Julia works for an art handling company a few days a week. She frequently spends the bulk of her hours on the trucks, as well as in collector’s homes, museums and galleries . Her work involves carrying, wrapping and installing artwork, often heavy and cumbersome. During my own seven year tenure working for an art handling company, I opted for the grind of paperwork and administration instead of heavy lifting.
“A lot of times, at work, the guys will ask me if I’m feeling strong. I don’t understand why feeling strong means having a big bicep, a flexed muscle, a raised arm. Why does being strong equate to being strong like a man? Also, that arm looks like a dick from here.”
We both laugh in agreement, as the arm, once cut away from Rosie’s face and body, indeed looks like a fleshy yellow, cartoon cock.
We talk about the meaning of words like ‘strong’ and how the raised arm emulates a particular kind of physical strength. I had always thought about the raised fist as a universal symbol of resistance against power. Many revolutionary movements utilize this symbol as a call to action. Our own Collective took a playful interpretation of the fist, coloring it pink and giving it a pair of embroidery scissors.
Regardless, the message is firm, and what if it is actually re-inscribing a particular kind of physical violence?
It feels like an interesting intersection to be seeing this image on soft cotton jersey. Especially considering that textiles, being malleable, soft, stretchy, carry their own sense of 'soft power', alluding to notions of manipulation over coercion.
Textiles, in their very nature adapt a tenet that the strongest kind of propaganda is no propaganda at all.