How Would Mary Feel?
Opening: December 11, 2014
Exhibition: December 11- January 22nd, closed December 23- January 2, 2015
“Embroidery also evokes the stereotype of the virgin in opposition to the whore, an infantilising representation of
Rozsika Parker, The Subversive Stitch – Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine
After years of feminist and post-feminist discourse, we are still faced with a myriad of words that describe women in derogatory terms and have become part of the vernacular. It is my intention to confront the viewer with a wall of over 100 of these words and ask each individual to consider the impact these words have in their lives.
This collection of disparaging words inundates the viewer with names, terms, or locutions that have expressed disdain for the female gender for centuries. Each word demonstrates this continuing prejudice against women within our society. Though many of these words can be traced back through history – for example “’whore”’ comes from the 12th century – most are contemporary and many emerge from popular culture, especially music genres that often objectify women. “’Butterface”, for example, is used to describe a woman’s attractive body in comparisonto her “ugly” face. Many of these words have become mainstream within society.
My objective with this installation is to cultivate a dialogue on feminism and contemporary perceptions of female self worth. Anecdotal evidence suggests that ‘feminism’ as a movement is no longer relevant; it has had its impact and gender equality is now pervasive. For example, in their recent critique, feminist writers Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune refer to the word “feminism” as the new “F” word.1
Historically, embroidery and cross-stitching were seen as feminine practices. In the early 16th century girls within upper class society learned to embroider ‘samplers’, which included cross-stitching the letters of the alphabet as a part of their “education” – only males were expected to be ‘truly’ educated with schooling. Embroidery and crossstitching were seen as expressions of the “feminine ideal”: “…docility, obedience, love of home, and a life without work, a worthy wife and mother”.2
Each word in this installation is illustrated through cross-stitching. By juxtaposing each harsh word with the delicacy of the needlework, I wish to emphasize the ongoing prejudice against women that continues to exist within society. The particular font used in this work was copied from a 1760 sampler by 11-year-old Mary Starker from Newbury, Massachusetts. Starker’s sampler is part of the Colonial Williamsburg collection in Williamsburg, Virginia, USA.
Each word has been cross-stitched by hand using cotton embroidery thread on traditional “Aida” fabric, and framed individually, with each frame measuring 7.5 x 10 inches. This installation includes over 100 unique words framed and hung in a space that simulates a softly lit ‘living room’ environment. What connects Mary Stalker and her cross-stitching to realities today? I feel strongly that Mary’s repetitive task that ‘put her in her place’ in the 1700’s is similar to the bombardment of words in this installation that continue to define the status of women today.
What is it about the frames, repetition, words, and hand stitching of the artist that leads to a personal response from the viewer? By placing this wall of words in a warm cozy settling, indicative of someone’s personal living space, I want to emphasize that these words have become common place – and to help us all ask whether or not – and why – women continue to be marginalized and disrespected today.
1 Redfern, Catherine and Kristin Aune. Reclaiming the F Word: Feminism Today
2 Parker, Rozsika. The Subversive Stitch – Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine