Ebitenefya Baralaye, Juror Statement
Activism relies on elements of community and power to bring about change. The freedom to engage in activism is at the core of a healthy democracy and a society of individuals living examined lives. It is not always oppositional, sometimes just revelatory. Our society’s policies and laws are always a work in the progress of adding and editing. Despite the hopeful claims of advancing technology and social media, people are as much as ever prone to living isolated, marginalized, or marginalizing lives, exalting whatever senses of safety, comfort, and assurance they can readily grasp. That is a dangerous space, breeding the kinds of ignorance, passivity, racism, and violence we are seeing reflected in recent and current events. The singular individual is rarely the solution to either their problems or that of their community. We are also never more than a generation away from forgetting the things that our previous generations have learned. Activism is a necessary part of how our culture comes together to illuminate and apply lessons from history, promote values of humanity, and continue to evolve.
In the summer of 2020, I participated in a march in Detroit protesting police brutality in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. The protest certainly put pressure on the local police department, our city’s mayor, and other local policymakers to listen to voiced concerns and respond with constructive actions and changes. It also identified and gathered a community of people who cared about this particular social cause and were willing to commit their time, energy, and voices to raise rallying cries/chants and apply pressure for change. Even considering the potential dangers of a protest march during a pandemic, it was the safest I had felt in a while. I felt secure knowing that so many neighbors in the city and around me at that moment cared about issues that also mattered deeply to me. Activism that day healed and significantly brought about social wellness that I didn’t fully realize I needed. To be clear, the events of January 6th, 2021, the attack on our US capitol by a domestic group spurred on by a former president, also represented a powerful activist experience (that I did not participate in). In the stark space between these two types of activist experiences, I feel the most hopeful about what craft and activism, Craftivism, can accomplish.
Before even diving into ideological aims, craft relies on respect for tradition, materials, education, and history to be grasped and engaged in making things. There is a significant alignment in mental and physical postures that people who work in or appreciate a particular craft share. That foundational alignment promotes a productive arena for people to share their stories, experiences, beliefs, and convictions. The connection to material and media in craft is particularly significant. Storytelling on its own is a craft but its imaginative realms can be (and are sometimes by design) more disconnected from the earth, body, and living realities of the present. The materiality of craft not only grounds what is being expressed but also serves as a bridge for those who are outside of the lived experience of what is being expressed. The material nature of Craftivism fosters a type of communication that is more focused on access than exclusion. This posture of communication does not make assumptions about an audience. It can generously host both its message and its audience in a power dynamic that disrupts the antagonistic status quo of debate in society. I think of this when I read David Drake’s poetry on his pottery pieces – the uniquely expressive voice of an artist who would not be silenced by his captivity or society’s expectations of him as an enslaved person. I think of this also when I see the patterns on the quilts of Gee’s Bend – an aesthetic of abstract patterning that by circumstance and intention, defied the prescribed order of early American quilts to evoke their own ancestry, community, and stories.
The diversity and breadth of entries for this exhibition were incredibly enlightening and refreshing to review. I learned a lot from the unique, stories, experiences, and perspectives presented by the artists and their work. In an era of so much political polarization, it encourages me that craftivism can be a space where people and their stories/concerns can more effectively be seen, heard, and engaged for the benefit of our society and the advancement of our culture.