Women and femmes perform multiple forms of labour which are not always recognized as such due to the fact that there is not monetary remuneration for this. This includes emotional labour and household tasks which are seen as the responsibility of femme beings. It seems fitting to write about two women who are taking a form of labour historically associated with women’s labour in the home and making artwork that highlights its significance.
London-based artist Hannah Hill creates embroidery works through which she addresses issues related to mental illness, racism and feminist activism. Her love for embroidery came from watching her mother knitting and sewing throughout her childhood. Hannah’s following grew dramatically when she posted one of her artworks in which combined the Arthur meme with text that expressed her frustration around the fact that embroidery and textiles have not been taken seriously as a form of labour and a medium in art history due to its historical association with “women’s work”.
Hannah’s hand-sewn pieces provide a reflection on the ways in which femme bodies have been stereotyped, the importance of embracing multiple genders and sexual orientations as well as affirmative self-talk when it comes to femme beings. These are communicated with emojis and other symbols associated with internet aesthetics.
The second artist we are looking at is Danielle Clough. Based in Cape Town, she is not only as an embroiderer but also VJs and is a photographer. Danielle’s embroidery work breaks the mold of traditional embroidery firstly as it is not made to fulfill any household need, she is not embroidering linens. No, Danielle embroiders tennis rackets, sneakers (she did this for Gucci in 2016) and she’s worked on the cover of Queer Africa 2. The subject matters she chooses to portray are also not traditional. Her subject matter consists of portraits of strong female characters (Mia Wallis in Pulp Fiction) and skulls. Her work also ties in with modern culture with her embroidered works of the poop emoji.
Danielle’s work shows that embroidery has made a shift from being assumed to be a menial household task that women were expected to be able to perform to one of note, to a craft that is museum worthy and that few people still possess the skills to do. Embroidery forms a part of Danielle’s job and she has received commissions from people like Drew Barrymore. Can this really be considered to be a menial household task? No I think not, what is more is that it has elevated to fine arts status.
What is significant is that the act of hand embroidery, commonly practiced by most women as a measurement of their feminine domesticity, has been revalued as a museum-deserving discipline in the realm of the art world that has historically been male dominated (Barre 2008: 79). But more still needs to be done to acknowledge the significance of this practice, and other forms of labour that women perform.