Featured Artist/Activist Lisa Anne Auerbach

Image by Lisa Anne Auerbach

Lisa Anne Auerbach is well known for her politicized knitwear—sweaters and other types of clothing hand and machine knit that include symbols or text that have a political meaning.  But in addition to knitting, she has also been working with other forms of textiles, photographs, zines, and in gouache.   She is interested in the ways in which humans communicate with each other, especially non-verbally through architecture and symbolism. 

Lisa Anne Auerbach, "My Jewish Grandma is Voting for Obama/Chosen People.

During the election, Auerbach developed a series called “Make America,” a spin-off of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.  Auerbach said that,
“during the 2016 Presidential Election, one of the candidate's slogans was "Make America Great Again," which of course implies that America is currently not "great" but once was and could be again. I have no idea what he's talking about, but I have some ideas for other things America might prioritize in the future.”

Image by Lisa Anne Auerbach

Since the election, she has continued with this “Make America” series but instead of in red, blue, and white, she is now working in black and white, resonating the sense of hopelessness many Americans are feeling—or symbolically representing the stark contrast between Obama and Trump’s version of America. 

Image by Lisa Anne Auerbach

Image by Lisa Anne Auerbach

Auerbach said of the painting “Hurt People Hurt People” that, “One of my students said this in class in reference to bullying and I thought, "well, wow, maybe that explains it." Hurt people like to blast off missiles and then they don't hurt enough people so they drop a giant bomb and that doesn't hurt enough people so they try to defund Planned Parenthood... I don't feel sorry for the guy because he's hurt; I just want him to take his slithering, destroyed, impaired and crackpot brain and get it someplace where he can't hurt any more people. Outer space would be fine, as long as he can't tweet from there.”

Image by Lisa Anne Auerbach

Image by Lisa Anne Auerbach

Auerbach has some words of wisdom for all of us resisting the agenda of hate. “You think it can't get any worse; then the sun comes up and a new day brings even more chaos and scandal. The challenge is to stay informed but not let it make you nuts. Don't go on total news strike, just take a day off. Don't cancel your newspaper subscription; without a functioning press we are sunk. Take time to pull weeds or listen to some music or go on a hike. It's Saturday and a beautiful day even though it seems like everything is shattering, the waters are rising, the air is clouding and our leadership is a simmering crock pot of madmen.”

Consider purchasing one of her grayscale paintings; the income from these works is being donated to organizations working to help Americans when the government fails them.


See more paintings on Auerbach’s instagram account @auerbachtoberfest

Check out Auerbach’s website for more images and information. 

Watch a video of Auerbach discussing her work here. 

Featured Artist/Activist Ruth Marshall

Amur Leopard.  Photo by Ruth Marshall

Ruth Marshall is a visual artist who works with knitting.  As an activist, her primary focus has been to bring awareness to the plight of endangered animals by reproducing their pelts and furs in knitted intricacy that mimics the look of real animal pelts.  The illusionary hides have fooled many art patrons, at least until they come close enough to examine the “skins” up close. 

Marshall says that, “people behave toward the work as if it’s real, even after they realize it’s knitted.  They still engage with it as if it is a real animal,” and it is that engagement that lends such power and force to Marshall’s message.  She focuses on animals that have been abused, taken for granted, and exploited, sometimes purposefully by humans but in other instances, through simple ignorance. 

Snakes.  Photo by Ruth Marshall

Marshall spends months studying animals in museums, such as at the Melbourne Museum, Australia, and at the American Museum of Natural History.  Then she maps out the animal’s pelt on graph paper and begins to knit from that plan using intricate intarsia and Fair Isle techniques. 

As she says on her website, “The twenty-first century is gripped by the predicament of habitat loss and species decline.  There is an urgent desire in me to say new things about this disappearing world and to contribute to the efforts to help wild animals and wild places endure.  I am devoted to telling the stories of individual animals who have been forgotten, lost, or who are in danger of becoming so.”

Marshall participated in the Su Casa Community Arts Engagement program that places artists in residence at more than one hundred senior centers across the five boroughs of New York City.  Marshall spent four months with senior ladies who crocheted and knitted a variety of objects, including working with nylon paracord and jumbo size crochet hooks to make roses and leaves for the artist’s installation at Montefiore “Hanging Garden.”  Marshall said the experience was amazing, and she plans to apply again to participate next year.

Jaguars.  Photo by Ruth Marshall

Recently, Marshall received a Community Arts Grants and has begun working on “Art in the Air” in partnership with her local library, Morris Park, New York Public Library in the Bronx.  Funds were made possible for the project through the New York State Council on the Arts.  The project consists of artwork made from paracord by the general public and will be installed from the ceiling in the library over several months.  If you are in the area, check the library’s event page for information because the schedule for creative sessions changes.  Learn more about the project here.

Numbat #1 & #2.  Photo by Ruth Marshall


Featured Artist/Activist Abigail Gray Swartz

You may know Abigail Gray Swartz’s work.  She’s been getting a lot of attention lately because of her Rosie the Riveter cover on the New Yorker magazine.  But Rosie is a woman of color, and she’s sporting a knitted pink pussy cap. 

Rosie the Riveter New Yorker Cover, Abigail Gray Swartz

Swartz says of attending the march and producing the New Yorker cover,
"On the Monday following the (women’s) march, I started thinking about the art I wanted to make in response to my own experience, as well as the collective experience of women nationally and worldwide.

I adored seeing the images flooding in of the sea of women (and men) in pink hats. So much pink! I saw a headline from a newspaper that read “She the People” and I thought, “She The People: The revolution will be handmade.”

I started thinking how there was this effort on the part of women to create a symbol for the march. It felt reminiscent of World War II when women rationed silk stockings in order to have enough material for the soldiers’ parachutes. How women knit for the soldiers and filled in at the factories while the men were away at war. Just like how we are reclaiming the word “pussy,” the hat is also a symbol of our history in our country - we are knitting something for the new “war effort” to fight for our rights as women. We are knitting for ourselves.

I turned to Rosie as a symbol to convey the transformation we have taken from the times of WWII. I made Rosie a woman of color, because as an artist I feel it’s my job to paint diversity. I recently read how important it is for children, especially for children of color, to see images of Barack Obama in their schools.

So I concluded, why not give girls of color, and everyone for that matter, an image of a Rosie with brown skin? It was just a no-brainer - I want to paint Rosie as a symbol of the Women’s March and she should look like this."

Print by Abigail Gray Swartz

Swartz says she is a “socially conscious person with a passion to help” and one way she does that is in lending her art to important causes.  She believes that it is important that activism begin at the local level—with your own neighborhood and community, and Swartz works to improve the safety and quality of life for new refugees, the LGBTQ community, and Black Lives Matter in Maine, where she now lives. 


Featured Artist Activist Salley Mavor

Featured Artist Activist Salley Mavor

 Wee Folk Players:  Political Satire in Stitch

(all photos copyrighted by and with the kind permission of Salley Mavor)

https://weefolkstudio.com/

For many, textile artist Salley Mavor needs no introduction.  She has spent the last forty years creating narrative scenes in bas-relief in what she calls, “miniature, shallow stage sets, with figures imposed on embellished fabric backgrounds.”  She is well known for her children’s book illustrations, including the 2010 award-winning

 

Women's March

 

But increasingly, her work is moving away from simple, sweet narratives to address real issues.  Her first full effort in this area was with a 2016 piece about refugees called Displaced

Displaced, 2016

Displaced, 2016

After the election, Mavor created the Wee Folk Players, forming scenes of political satire that gave voice to her frustration.  She said in a Facebook post to her fans in explanation, “I am not by nature a political person, but I believe that speaking out through art is important for the health of our democracy, especially now. Art making requires a point of view, which can be confronting, depending on a person’s background and beliefs.”

 

There has been some pushback against Mavor’s satire, with fans arguing that there is no room in her art for political criticism but Mavor defends her move as a “natural evolution” of the direction her work was taking over the last two years.  And while there have been dissenters, overwhelmingly fans have embraced the new style of stitch that Mavor has taken, sensing the comic relief it provides while telling truths in a simple, straightforward, and beautiful manner. 

Featured Artist/Activist Bisa Butler

One Vote Can Change the World, 2008.  Photo courtesy of Bisa Butler

Bisa Butler knew that she was an artist from an early age and went on to study formally at Howard University, where she obtained a Bachelor’s in Fine Art.  It was while studying for her Master’s degree that she realized her current passion, which is fiber art.  In addition to making and showing her fine art creations, Butler is an art teacher in the Newark Public School system, New Jersey.  Her art has been displayed in many venues, including the Smithsonian Museum of American History and at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center. 

Bisa Butler.  Photo courtesy of Bisa Butler.

Butler’s art quilts focus on African American life, often portraits, of people she sees all the time.  At a recent exhibition, “The People Who Could Fly:  Royalty without Riches,” Butler spoke of the sense of dignity she sees in people she encounters daily, and how she has tried to express that nobility through her chosen medium. 

In 2008, Butler was inspired by the election of Barack Obama and created the art quilt, “One Vote Can Change the World.”  The quilt is 27 x 38 inches and is hand-painted cotton, commercial cotton, and denim with machine applique and quilting. 

Butler said of the quilt, “One Vote Can Change the World is my homage to the amazing, beautiful and powerful images I saw of Americans lining up to vote in this election.  I had always heard about the struggles African Americans went through in order to gain the right to vote, but being of Generation X, I had never witnessed a movement before.  During this election, I witnessed people of all ages, economic circumstances, and races lining up to ensure that Mr. Barack Obama would be our next president.” 

Although Butler’s quilts are not always about politics, they prove once again that the personal is always political.  By elevating the average person, the kind of person that might toil their entire life with no recognition, to fine art, Butler has revealed that these are the types of people who have always made America great.  Their struggles get to the heart of a nation, displaying the real strength of the American people.

“Pop Pop and Grandmommy”) Photo courtesy of Bisa Butler.

See Butler in an interview above about her latest exhibition “The People Who Could Fly.” You can see more of Butler’s art quilts here and connect with her on Facebook here.   

Featured Artist Activist Kim Werker

Kim Werker published a free Pussyhat pattern prior to the Women’s March and it has opened the door for her feminism and activism to become more integral to her work as a crochet pattern developer and creative counselor.  But activism isn’t new for Werker, who grew up in a “politically literate family” where her mother was a union activist, showing her the strength that women have in the home and at work.  Since holding her first elected position in a high school youth group, Werker has been determined to “leave the world in better shape” than she found it.  

Hundreds of women have downloaded her Pussyhat pattern and signed up for her newsletter that highlights the intersection of craft and activism, a new project that has Werker excited because she has finally found a platform that combines two of her strongest interests—crafting and activism, or what is known as “craftivism.”

Kim Werker at the Women's March in Vancouver, Canada, January 21, 2017.

But she’s not alone in combining these two pursuits.  If you weren’t aware that this is an actual thing, it is.  There are many artists and crafters working to make a difference in the world through their hand-made objects, such as crocheted and knitted blankets, for example. 

I asked Werker how “regular” people could combine their crafting with political activism and she offered some suggestions:  find a craftivist group near you.  There are groups located all over the world.  You can start by locating quilting or sewing circles, yarn-bombing groups, or an arts collective.  You can also start with a bigger organization and see if they have a craftivist group associated with them. 

Werker said, “The way I see it, craftivism is about using craft as your voice to express the change you want to see in the world – whether it’s to highlight injustice or to present a solution to it, whether it’s to add your voice to a collection of others or to be as bold and loud as possible on your own. For many of us, especially women who are trained from a young age to be polite and smile, it can be intimidating – or downright terrifying – to speak up about what we believe in. Allowing our craft to serve as our voice can be a great way to bootstrap into being more literally vocal. And once we’re comfortable using our actual voices, our craft can be a way to amplify them.”

Click here to get the Pussyhat pattern and detailed instructions, including videos.

Sign up for Werker’s Action and Craft weekly newsletter here. 

Visit Werker’s website and check out her book, Make it Mighty Ugly

Featured Artist Ciena Valenzuela-Peterson

I picked up a copy of RESIST!, the women’s rights graphic newspaper released just before the Women’s Day March in January and was captured by Ciena Valenzuela-Peterson’s illustration, “Temo.”  I did a little digging to find out more about the artist and realized that there wasn’t much online because she is sixteen years old and at the beginning of her career.  It took a bit to find an email address, but I was able to establish contact with her and she agreed to an interview.  Here is it in full:

Kelly McMichael (KM):  How old are you and how did you get started making art? 

Ciena Valenzuela-Peterson (CVP):  “I am 16 years old, and I’ve been making art throughout my whole life. As a child, I grew up in an environment where my creativity was fostered and encouraged. My art grew from crayon scribbles to pencil fairies to graphite eyes and now digital faces. Most of the art I make nowadays is for my AP Art class in school.”

KM:  What led you to paint “Temo?”

CVP:  “Temo” is my attempt to consolidate all the pain felt by the Mexican-American community over Trump’s election into one image. It’s my rawest and most emotionally potent work of art, because I started working on it the day after the election and channeled as much of my emotional energy into it as possible. The shock and despair on the girl’s face mirrored my own. The Mexican flag and the American flag are side by side as the girl’s tears to show that both identities are equally valid, despite those trying to convince us that they must be mutually exclusive. The flowers represent everything that is beautiful about Mexican culture, but above them I wrote every vile thing Trump has said about Mexicans or Mexican immigrants. Trump and his supporters ignore our rich and vibrant culture and have no regard for the inherent worth and dignity of every person, instead believing shallow and racist lies. I grew up believing in hope and kindness and respect, but waking up to the news of Trump’s victory on November 9th truly made me feel like hatred had won. That is why I needed to create this artwork.”

KM:  Do you consider yourself an artist activist—or is this painting a one-off because of something more personal?

CVP:  “This painting was my first artwork of the kind, but certainly not the last. What brought the painting to life was my incredibly strong emotional reaction to the events going on in the world. I was moved to create, and so I did. I cannot imagine I will never be motivated to make more political art, especially with the way a new horror seems to be unfolding every day. However, I wouldn’t call it activist art. To me, activism demands and creates bigger changes. My art is much more self-reflective, expressing my interpretation of this struggle. By sharing it, I hope I’ve stirred emotions in like-minded people and perhaps even in those who would typically disagree with me, but to call the art in and of itself activism seems too self-important to me. After all, I created “Temo” for myself, to release some of the pain I had been feeling and express what I couldn’t quite say with words; it was only after I looked back on the finished product that I thought, “Hey, you might have something here,” and decided to submit it to publications like Resist. I do think activism is now more important than it has ever been in my lifetime, and I will participate in any way I can.”

KM:  I see that you are donating all of the proceeds from selling your print to border Angels and the ACLU.  Can you tell us why these organizations are important to you?

CVP:  “The ACLU has an incredibly long history of standing up for civil rights in America. They are well known, reliable, and have been behind so much positive legal action and change. Most recently the ACLU has been taking on Trump’s Muslim ban, another issue I feel is horrifically wrong and deeply important to combat.

Border Angels is a smaller organization that aims to protect and empower Mexican migrant workers. These people face so much discrimination, racism, and struggle, and the looming threat of deportation allows employers to manipulate and exploit them even more. Border Angels gives migrants access to education, immigration consultations, and necessities like water that save the lives of those trekking through the desert.”

KM:  What’s next for you?

CVP:  “I will attend all the marches and protests I can, donate to organizations besides ACLU and Border Angels, and stand up for what I believe in. My mentality is this: If I’m going to get so upset about what’s going on, spend so much emotional energy on politics and civil rights, then I better be putting actions to my words. I will not allow myself to be inactive and complacent. And if I find myself moved again, the same way I was when making “Temo,” then I will absolutely make more art.”

You can purchase a print of Ciena Valenzuela-Peterson’s “Temo” from her website http://etcetezine.bigcartel.com/product/temo-art-print

See this article for more on the creation of RESIST! and women’s art activism. 

https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2017/01/francoise-mouly-nadja-spiegelman-on-resist-the-wom.html

Featured Artist Activist Lisa Congdon

  Pictures are copyrighted by Lisa Congdon and kindly shared here. 

lisacongdon.com:  website and blog

lisacongdon:  instragram

Lisa Congdon at Women's March, Portland, Oregon

Lisa Congdon at Women's March, Portland, Oregon

As a fine artist and illustrator known for making whimsical illustrations, Lisa Congdon makes no excuses when it comes to her activist art, despite pushback from some of her fans who say they’d rather just see her “pretty pictures.”  But Congdon refuses to be silent, even at the risk of losing followers.  She argues that as an artist, she must speak her “truth.”  By this she means expressing herself as a “whole” person, not compartmentalizing her private life and opinions apart from her art but rather integrating them so that she gives voice to the things that matter to her. 

The things that she most cares about come from her place as a woman and a lesbian in an American culture that regards both as secondary—the female as subordinate to the male and homosexuality as, at best, inferior to heterosexuality, or worse, as illegal or “immoral.”  Congdon is navigating how to situate these experiences through art so that she serves as a voice for women, lesbians, and others who are marginalized and do not have as strong of a presence or platform.   

Having worked with both the Clinton and Obama campaigns, the Human Rights campaign, and other progressive causes, Congdon is no stranger to speaking her truth but she is committed to doing even more.  Here’s a plan of action she set out recently in a blog post and one she encourages other activists to follow:

“+Use your pain to express yourself.
+Make time to express your feelings and beliefs through your art.
+Own your anger or frustration. Do not let others tell you to “settle down.”
+Be authentic: say what you feel and in a way that you would say it. Speak your truth!
+Stop worrying about whether people will stop following you or like what you post.
+Participate in fundraisers with your work.
+Support causes you care about through your art — raise money, encourage others to donate, do pro-bono work for them.
+Connect with other artists who are also interested in using their work and platforms to shed light on political issues and human rights issues you care about; collaborate with them!
+Research workshops in your community that teach about activism for artists. Participate in local initiatives.
+Follow and support fellow artists who are using their platforms to express themselves. This is a time to unite!”


Continue to follow Congdon’s activism journey on her Instagram account and blog:

lisacongdon.com:  website and blog

lisacongdon:  instragram