From 2012 – writing about craft

On a recent trip to Paris, I visited the Château de Versailles as most tourists do. As expected, I encountered endless rooms full of exquisite furniture and paintings. Suddenly, in one of the rooms, I came across something hanging from the ceiling – a large orange crocheted object– that was not in sync with the time period. Upon closer inspection, I learned that this (title of her piece),  was part of an exhibition of contemporary artist Joana Vasconcelos (http://www.crochetconcupiscence.com/2012/05/joana-vasconcelos-is-chateau-de-versailless-first-female-artist/ and http://senatus.net/article/joana-vasconcelos-exhibition-chateau-versailles/ ).

I was delighted to find Vasconcelos’ hand-crafted crocheted sculptures interrupting the hand-loomed silk brocade other lush handcrafted artefacts from the past. I came away with – well, a discussion happening inside my head about textiles as media and the politics of craftivism. The artist does not claim the term craftivism. Yet (as the first woman artist to inhabit Versailles) her work invites a reflection on the raced, ethnic and colonized presences, which are either absent or form a menial backdrop, in the paintings and other objects in the chateau. On the web site, we learn that the artist invites her artwork to be read as a confrontation with the Palace.  The exhibit invites the tourist to stage a different confrontation: a consideration of the critical role of race, class, gender and colonialism in historical context and how textiles might be read as one strategy for the practice of media criticism.

Locating when and how practices such as weaving or crocheting can be read as a part of media history, and as rebellion, resistance or protest, is a complex matter. Reflecting on craftwork as media and as a media of potential rebellion or protest highlights the present day feminization of craftwork in relation to another moments of class exploitation and other instances of struggle against forms of domination and oppression. The question must be raised – when are craftivisms and handmade-only movements effective as critique and how?

In terms of feminism, craftwork may be is often associated with work of young women in North America, using  “craftivism” openly as mode of critique and protest or a way to create awareness for issues in public space (see http://craftivism.com/definition.html for a quick definition). For instance, various “stitch and bitch” groups (taking their motivation from Debbie Stollers series of “Stitch ‘n’ Bitch” books) have formed in various parts of the (mostly) western world and women and men. Some of these groups engage in public campaigns such as raising funds for Cancer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stitch_’n_Bitch) and knitting warm clothes for Occupy protestors. This form of craftivism uses craft, openly, to make visible a particular issues by inserting objects in public spaces.

However, craftivism does not always signal open, visible rebellion, protest of advocacy in public space. There exists a history of crafting resistance that questions the politics of visibility. As Jack Bratich writes  “a conventional practice can be used for hidden purposes (the quilt as camouflage)” Take for example the case of the Underground Railway quilt-maps, where craftivism functioned as a means for slaves fleeing the South to the North with a roadmap of their escape route. (Bratich, 2011). In such an instance secrecy is key. In fact, because of the way handcrafting can be camouflaged as hobby or a chore done within the domestic space, whether as necessity or as leisure activity, its effectiveness is also camouflaged and risks domestication.

Further, it is also true that, depending on the context – time, place, kind of craft, gender – the mere act of taking up a crochet hook, a spindle or knitting needles and inserting the practice into one’s daily routine can be considered revolutionary. Gandhi’s careful, strategic use of spinning as symbol and as daily habit/practice contributed significantly to the mobilizing of a whole nation into collective action. In this instance he was able to mobilize “the masses” precisely because spinning and weaving were livelihoods that still sustained contemporary communities.

And here it is important to recall that prior to the introduction of technologies such as the spinning Jenny, hand-spinning (whether on a spindle or a spinning wheel) was a form of non-formal (mostly performed by women and people from lower caste) labor that was in actuality crucial to the materialization of cloth. Mechanization of the spinning process on the other hand, was initiated in Britain with the invention of the Spinning Jenny. The Jenny was a technology that came into being through local needs and socio-economic circumstances within a British context, yet laid foundations for neoliberal economic processes related to capital and wage distributions and mass production (some of this is mapped by Robert Allen http://www.econ.yale.edu/seminars/Kuznets/allen-101007.pdf). The struggle against mechanization within the British context, as writers such as Adrian Randall have pointed out, was about a shift in organizational hierarchies and community cultures.

The spinning Jenny as innovation on hand-spinning was not economically profitable within the Indian weaving context, however.  Various reasons for this include the cultural habitus that came with Spinning Jenny and how the politics of colonization intruded on the ways in which spinning (women’s work) required a shift in the way women negotiated their family care and spinning productivity.  A majority of the production process of cotton cloth for everyday wear was shifted from India to England during the Victorian era while the raw material was still be taken from colonized India.

The portable charkha was Gandhi’s innovation developed as a response to the Spinning Jenny and related innovations. His call to Indians across class, caste and gender boundaries to cultivate a habit of spinning as a daily practice was a necessary cultural shift needed to make his innovation effective. The regular activity of hand-spinning functioned symbolically as a protest against a particular form of colonization. This form of resistance to colonial rule worked well because the colonizers were imposing industrialization and imposing a governance logic (including taxation, forms of deskilling, exploitation of raw materials) that benefitted the colonizing nation more than the colonized one. While hand-crafting functioned as resistance in this instance – one might ask – what about this spinning movement was “craftivism”? One might also note how this strategic insertion of spinning into the daily routine of millions of people in a colonized nation functioned to produce both a critique of the Western narrative of Industrial progress and a material mode of resistance against oppression.

In the case of Vasconcelos’ exhibit at the Chateau – we have two contexts of “textile.” One is the context of the brocade furnishings already in the Chateau, such as Marie Antionette’s bedspread. The other context of textile is visible through the crochet objects that Joanna has placed strategically side-by-side with these furnishings. It is this confrontation and juxtaposition that opens up multiple ways of telling/implying labor and colonial history in relationship to media. Where much existing labor history does not weave the social and the economic in all its nuanced complexities, the exhibit moves us to think about the different kinds of bodies engaged in laboring over handmade products – media- across time. We are forced to consider placement and displacement in relation to race, colonialism and gender – side-by-side with class – not as add-ons to class or as ethnic enclaves bracketed for delicate handling.

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I did not want to write a blog post today. Yet I stutter along in public today.

I did not want to write a blog post today – but the thoughts cannot be contained – neither can they be written.

You know -one of those days – many days go by like this.

Presenting at The Toronto School event on sunday – my power medium being the Spindle – allowed me to write the narrative in yet another way – the connecting of women’s labor, technology, affect, value and spinning….. so much history to find. I pre – presented before the presentation in conversation with several people – and recovered more bits a pieces of what I need to write….

looking to map spinner histories – looking through “archives” of oral histories – and myths and folklore – where might the history of women’s productive labor be hidden?

Anyway – at the same time as I was prepping – I saw Nancy Baym’s instagram post sharing  Joanna Vasconcelos exhibit images – and again today I saw those shared on Facebook when I returned to post (after a hiatus from FB)…

https://www.facebook.com/Joana-Vasconcelos-114594835254650/?hc_location=ufi

I remembered a draft of something I wrote for Fembot Laundry Day  that I don’t think I ever finished or published . So here goes (see next blog post). Its to serve as a reminder to make some connections I am thinking about in my offline diaries and in my notes when I write up my next … something … for publication along the themes …

 

 

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Bio (July 2016)

Radhika Gajjala (PhD, University of Pittsburgh, 1998) is Professor of Media and Communication and Acting Director of American Culture Studies (2016-2017) at Bowling Green State University, USA. She was Fulbright Professor in Digital Culture at University of Bergen, Norway for the year 2015-2016. During her Fulbright-Norway year she also recieved two intercountry Fulbright grants. One was to teach and collaborate on research with faculty at Universidad San Jorge at Zaragoza, Spain and the other was to do a Masterclass and Public lecture at Utrecht University (where she is on the advisory committee for an ERC project on “Digital Crossings in Europe: Gender, Diaspora and Belonging” led by Professor Sandra Ponzanesi).

In 2012, she was Senior Fulbright scholar at Soegijapranata Catholic University, Semarang, Indonesia. She has researched non-profit organizations and also engaged in community partnerships with biracial communities around social network use by teens and also collaborated on collecting digital oral histories in the  NW Ohio between 2000 and 2008. In 2005 she spent her FIL working with BASIX, India for a few weeks, as a consultant to help explore virtual training/classes for the School of Livelihood Promotion in Hyderabad, India.

From 2003 to the present she has occupied various administrative positions. 2003 to 2005 she worked as Vice Chair and then Chair of Faculty Senate at BGSU, and from 2006 to 2009 she was graduate coordinator at the School of Media and Communication. She was Interim Director of Women’s Studies (2009- 2010) and Director of American Culture studies program (2010-2012) at BGSU.

She is an active reviewer for various divisions at NCA, been member of several committees and subcommittees over the past several years at NCA, ICA and AOIR (including the AOIR ethics committee). She has served as Chair of the Feminist and Women’s Studies Division of NCA, Chair of the Critical Cultural Studies division of NCA and also Chair of the Feminist Studies division of ICA.

Twitter handle: cyberdivalivesl

Occasional Blog posts: radhikagajjala.org 

For her Snapchat research and teaching journals and lectures follow/add – cyberdivalive on snapchat

 

 

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Special issue of IJEP on Ediaspora …

Table of Contents:

 

Introduction: Special issue on E-diaspora: Living Digitally – Radhika Gajjala and Tori Arthur

The Indernet – From internet portal to the social web – Urmila Goel

Young electronic diasporas, affectivity and human right claims: Young connected migrants and non-normative European family life – Koen Leurs.

Feeling (dis)connected: Diasporic LGBTQs and digital media – Alexander Dhoest

Nollywood Afrogeeks: Nigerian Cinema, Digital Diasporas, and African Immigrants in the United States – Tori Arthur

Diasporizing the Digital Humanities: Displacing the Center and Periphery – Roopika Risam

 

TOC_Ediaspora_final

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Day one of class across time zones

So I’ve been at this setting up of my online class since 5.30 am Norway time I am sure by now my students most of whom are in EDT zone will start to see the content.

I  have also very clumsily recorded my snapchat lecture with one handheld appliance from another – so I will now let it all rest. No more snaps for a few hours because I know I won’t be able to record from appliance to appliance awkwardly maybe until tomorrow night ish Norway time.

This is good – because now I can get my head unwound from the class work which was threatening to take over everything today. But I did still manage to get some of the other things on my list done… (my Utrecht public talk is written, for instance and I did not fully ditch my collaborators working on writing a grant:)) so … I will now recede into non-social media private space.

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Snapchat Lectures for Online ACS 6820

**Warning – clunky videos – not best quality – spontaneous production – typos and sound issues …

But we explore ….

Here’s the storify explanation for what I’m doing for my summer graduate class in 2016 (This method will also be adapted for the undergrad class later this summer – but there are more than double number of students enrolled in that online class so I may do it a bit differently).

https://storify.com/cyberdivalivesl/snapchat-lectures-gajjala

 

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Digital Humanities and the (Critical) Communication Discipline and Methods

Forthcoming and  in-progress – meanwhile – look at my tweets, Facebook posts and other scattered notes.

And note that my Fall class from SMC will be taking up this theme:

dhcritandcomm2016course

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Catching up with myself

Here’s another one of my periodic blog updates as I once again “catch up with myself” this Fulbright-Norway academic year of 2015-2016.

My last blog post here was in December 2015. Since January I’ve been a bit slow on social media too. Also since my spinning tools are in back home in Ohio, I haven’t be streaming my fiber images via instagram etc either.

The year started with good intellectual activity in Mumbai and Hyderabad and  then a new course at UiB in Bergen on Inclusion/Exclusion in Digital Cultures that I am  co-teaching with Hilde Corneliussen.

February sort of went away in a haze of broken elbow surgery and negotiation of plates and screws in the elbow as a consequence.

March began with a visit from a dear colleague from Bowling Green  – Kris Blair.

Now today – I head down to Trondheim “Futurescapes” conference to present my work there.

March 20 to 24 I am in Zaragoza, Spain doing a Intercountry Fulbright Lecture and Teaching thing.

In April – I will be giving a couple public talks – one at MSU  and another at USF (TBA).

In May I am off to do a Master teaching gig and a talk and catch up with colleagues at Utrecht (Partially funded by the ICC Fulbright ).

In early June I will be presenting at the “Active Citizenship today” conference at Tromso.

After that I head home to Bowling Green, Ohio.

 

 

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writing thoughts

Not for the first time ever has it occurred to me … how many times my daily work and home life routines have actually destroyed some very good writing habits I developed in my key teenage years when I was convinced I wanted to be an “author” – what that meant to me then and what that means to me now of course are very very different.
I also had far better writing habits when I had an infant and then a very tolerant toddler around me to make me stay in place and read and write.
(and type  –  even though I had to give up my writing tools to him and find another mode of writing – that was easier done when I was in notebook and pen mode than when I had to handover the typewriter and later the computer)
I even had far better writing habits when I was completing my dissertation!
(Perhaps because I had no unrealistic expectations that it would be earth shattering – it was not – but it was done)
And yes I shared the computer with the then preteen too. It wasn’t until I got my tenure track position that I completely relinquished my desktop to him and then eventually he went and built his own computer(s).
I am grateful this academic year for a period away from the busy work of everyday university service (even though I have to teach and grade here and I am still working closely with all my graduate advisees and mentees at BGSU – I don’t have to worry about some of the other things). That kept eating away at all my strongly cultivated writing and concentration discipline. I think slowly I may figure out how to re-route my brain circuits so I can write straight sentences everyday and get my writing projects completed.
fingers crossed.

 

Thank you to all my colleagues at my home institution – BGSU – who are doing all this work – because that work – although it disrupts the research work – must be done to protect our academic integrity and teaching philosophies.

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Gender research NOW at UiB

Today and tomorrow I can be found presenting and discussing here:

http://www.uib.no/en/skok/90647/gender-research-now

On December 16, – you will find me at http://www.uib.no/en/skok/91744/future-womens-and-gender-research-disciplines

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