Craftivism is growing. Just lately, an upsurge in creativity during lockdowns and a renewed commitment to justice issues has fired many more people’s imaginations to take part. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines craftivism as “the activity of using crafts…to change the world”. And I believe that craftivism may not only help change the world, but also change participants’ own lives. When art and craft become ways to act for change, to reverse wrongs and to further a cause people believe in, that’s empowering. Making a difference, feeling empowering, boosts wellbeing.
Although the word craftivism has only been in use since 2003, the actual use of art & craft in activism has older roots. In the USA, the struggle for racial justice has long inspired creativity. Quilting (like the quilt pattern Underground Railroad) and other needlework drew attention to the abolitionists’ cause, while sculptures like Edmonia Lewis’s Forever Free also opposed slavery. Later, the 2oth century’s civil rights movement also inspired murals, prints, paintings & sculptures.
Other movements have also seen visual arts as a tool for activism. Movements like pacifism (from Kathe Kollwitz’s prints to the 1989 installation Common Land/Greenham) and feminism (a wide range of installation and performance art, photography & painting).
Obviously at any one time craftivist campaigns highlight specific events. This year one focus is COP26, the UN climate summit the UK will be hosting in Glasgow in November. Seizing this opportunity are diverse craftivist initiatives. There’s The Loving Earth Project (https://lovingearth-project.uk) run by the Quaker Arts Network and Woodbrooke. They have invited people to stitch and craft panels exploring why we need to care for the Earth. These will be on display in Glasgow during COP26 and will then tour to different locations. Then there’s Stitches for Survival, which is asking people to knit, sew or crochet climate messages. These will be stitched together to make a scarf 1.5 miles ong – representing the target set by a previous COP summit, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. And Craftivist Collective is encouraging people to make life-size canaries to send to their MP wit ha model letter. This campaign is inspired by the expression “a canary in a coal mine” – we are all canaries in the coal mine now in the climate emergency.
Craftivist Collective (https://craftivistcollective.com) embodies craftivism’s power to engage people. Set up by a professional campaigner in 2009, it now involves thousands of people who pay no membership fee but instead purchase kits to take part in the many different campaigns. These vary from A Positive Note (a mental health-themed campaign in aid of MIND) to Mini Fashion Statements and even a children’s campaign, Solidarity Bunting.
So craftivism can open the doors to change, to reform – and can also have a positive impact on craftivists themselves. While activism can be dispiriting & depressing, with craftivism we feel more hopeful, less helpless.
Have you experimented with craftivism? Would you like to share any thoughts or experiences – or images! – on Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 ? Thank you.