Craftivism: the art of craft and activism (book thoughts)

Have you ever wondered how other people globally are practicing craftivism (craft+activism)? Although you can find many examples online, you often don’t get the background behind a project or sometimes projects come to an end and the documentation is taken off-line. This is why books are so indispensable and why I really appreciate Betsy Greer’s latest book Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activism. Greer has compiled a contemporary history of activist projects worldwide.

Craftivism: The art of craft and activism, edited by Betsy Greer
Craftivism: The art of craft and activism, edited by Betsy Greer

The essays and interviews compiled in this book are truly inspiring and informative. Through these readings we are able to grasp at the variety of ways in which craftivism is practiced. As art jeweller Gabriel Craig says in his interview, “the more kinds of craft-based activism there are, the better. However, I do recognize a difference in their conception, implementation, audience, and effectiveness as advocacy tools. Part of being a successful craft activist today is having a big toolbox.”

Essays and interviews in the book fall within four categories: Personal Threads, Refashioning Craft, Craft as Political Mouthpiece, and Activating Communities.

Craftivism for some is more personal and is practiced in isolation, such as in one’s own home, but is then taken outside. Take for example, Sayraphim Lothian who in her essay, Guerrilla Kindness, talks about how her motivation is to bring some joy to people’s lives. She has done does this by crafting small artworks such as cupcakes and leaving them around her city for strangers to stumble upon. A tag that says “For You Stranger / @sayraphim” accompanies the item. @sayraphim is her twitter handle and offers people an opportunity to find more about the project. This idea of leaving a twitter handle made me think of how I could also continue the conversation online with passersby that see my craftivist project in the streets of Vancouver.

While for some the intention behind a project can be explained in relatively simple terms, others are grounded in deep political and theoretical thought. This is exemplified in Otto von Busch’s essay Crafting Resistance. Von Busch’s essay offers much food for thought as he contemplates Thoreau and Ghandi’s actions and philosophy in examining today’s acts of craft within the world of fashion and how these acts stand for forms of resistance. We can react to the oppressive effects of fashion by “crafting alternative forms of togetherness through fashion” and thus begin to work towards solutions to consumerism and peer pressure.

This idea of togetherness, working together towards a common goal, is something I have started to experience during my new practice in craftivism. The potential of creating community and spaces for discussion is one of the things that attracts me to craftivist-based actions. While I get great satisfaction both from reacting by creating my message banners and from putting them out in the community for others to contemplate, creating community and discussion feels like a logical extension to many craftivist actions.

Many of the essays and interviews in this book fuelled my commitment to further explore the potential of craftivism and to also commit to a more thoughtful lifestyle, such as mending my own clothes and being proud to show patches. JP Flintoff’s essay On Gold Joinery and Mending was inspiring.

As Catherine West says in her essay Giving Voice Through Craftivism, “craftivism is most powerful when it directly affects a community.” But needless to say, all craftivist actions affect somebody, not just the creator, and as Gabriel Craig said above, the effectiveness of these actions varies. Ultimately though, it all starts with taking action which will have the effect of transforming your life or how you see yourself in the world. How will taking action change you for a better world change you?

Be sure to check your local independent book seller before purchasing from a big chain store. Vancouver Public Library already has a copy of this book on their shelves.

Join me August 24 2014 for Stitching with Purpose in Vancouver, a free drop-in workshop. More info here.

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