It’s January! Do you know what that means? It's time to do something with all those old gift tags, scraps of wrapping paper, cardboard boxes and other festive debris that is lying around. And there is no better use for it than for social justice! This month’s creative protest blog focuses on ‘Craftivism’.
Arguably, the protest forms we have already explored can fall under the umbrella of ‘craftivism’, so it is a good point to truly explore what it is and how it has become such a powerful global movement. Craftivism is a form of activism which uses different crafts to deliver political messages. Betsie Greer first coined the term ‘Craftivism’ in 2003 in response to seeing people use craft to discuss change. Craftivism includes, but is not limited to, various forms of needlework such as cross-stitch or knitting and crochet; papercrafts like collage and card making; and mixed media installations such as the puppets I’ve mentioned in previous blogs.
Sarah Corbett is the founder of the Craftivists Collective, a community of crafters who encourage others to use arts and crafts as a force for good. In part she was inspired by Mahatma Ghandi, who used non-violent campaigns to protest British rule. He used to spin yarn to encourage Indians to boycott British textiles in favour of homemade clothes. One of the collective’s most successful campaigns was the ‘Don’t Blow It’ campaign that they ran to protest Marks and Spencer’s wages for their workers. The Craftivism Collective sent hankies to board members of M&S with the words ‘Don’t Blow It’ stitched onto them. This was to say they loved their work but were shocked they didn’t pay many of their staff a living wage. The campaign was a success, and as a result M&S upped their salaries to the living wage for 50,000 staff. The Chair of the board said it was one of the most powerful campaigns he’d seen.
Cross stitch and embroidery are not the only ways that textiles can be used in protest. Crochet and knitting have recently risen in popularity, and you might have given it a go yourself, but have you ever considered how using wool can be an act of social justice? In 2017, crochet and knitting came to the forefront of protest with the creation of Pussy-hats. (www.pussyhatproject.com) These were pink hats, so called because their shape looks as though the wearer has cat ears. They were worn by women all over the world, and in the US to rally for women’s rights to show disapproval for Donald Trump and his attitude to women, with over half a million people wearing them at a march in Washington DC. The hats became a global symbol of female solidarity and the power of collective action, and there were predicted to be over four million women globally who also took part in sister marches in solidarity.
Craftivism is not a new concept. We have already touched on Mahama Ghandi, but there was also Josiah Wedgwood who produced and handed out anti-slavery brooches as an abolitionist symbol in the 1780s, the Suffragettes who would embroider intricate and eye-catching banners, and the AIDs memorial quilt made to commemorate those who died in the 80s and 90s. This AIDS memorial quilt, was developed in 1985 by a San-Francisco activist Cleeve Jones, as a way to commemorate those who had been lost during the pandemic. The American quilt is the largest piece of community folk art in the world, with each panel being designed by family members who lost people to aids in the 80s and 90s. Each panel is the size of a coffin to make it even more poignant. It was last displayed in full in 1996 in Washington and has since been expanded digitalised (the link for which is at the bottom of this blog). The UK quilt is much smaller, and has 384 names, including the
likes of Freddie Mercury. It was designed with a similar aim; to dispel discrimination and educate those in the UK of the AIDS crisis and the people affected by it.
Art which brings together different communities and people’s contributions can be extremely powerful. One of the first interactions I had with Craftivism did just this. It was a few years ago with SCM; some of you may remember the bunting which was created by SCM members to protest the DSEI Arms Fair. We hung the bunting to spread a message of peace to combat the selling and dealing of arms in London. Those of you who took part in sending boats to James Cleverly to protest the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers have also already taken part in craftivism. The delivering of these boats created a collective message which we sent to the new Home Secretary in response to his treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.
Craftivism is an accessible form of protest, because it can come in many forms. It is also a truly peaceful act, and can be done with friends or in communities, such as the Craftivists Collective. It also does not require people to leave the house, and so can be engaged with by people with accessibility needs too. It is also an effective and often successful form of protest, as seen with our very own origami boats campaign and the ‘Don’t Blow It’ campaign.
Now, back to the discarded wrapping paper and boxes - this January we also have another craftivism campaign for you to get involved with…
As part of our banking campaign, we’re inviting people to cut up old bank brochures, leaflets and so on to create a collage to send to unethical banks, along with a letter calling on them to act and invest more ethically. In particular, we are supporting people in switching to more ethical banks, and using these collages as a way to let their old bank know they have left them and why. The example on the video is a dove sent to Barclays, to protest their involvement in the manufacturing of nuclear weapons and investments in militaries.
Call to action:
Switch banks, and use the craftivism video and template we will be releasing to communicate with your bank. Resources coming soon: movement.org.uk/resources
Engage with the AIDs memorial quilt online: aidsmemorial.org