Olvido García Valdés writes “From ivory he sees his own fingers, needles”, a poem included in From eye to bone (2001). I read this poem and feel the connection between women’s writing, the body, the physicality of the word, the manual, the immensity of the small. The needle enters and leaves the fabric, stretched on the frame, and the physical effort crystallizes into conventional beauty, kitsch, a discovery. The needle goes in, goes out. We can prick ourselves. The drop of blood appears as an image in an activity that, like many of those that women have carried out, is placed at an intermediate point between crafts and art, creation and consumption: the prosumption about which Remedios Zafra writes. Crafts, work, ikebana, pre-technological tasks serve to pass the time, beautify the house, warm the family’s feet. My grandmother Juanita knitted pearl panties for me. My mother made me red sweaters.
I return to Olvido’s poem because, in a conference on “Listening in museums”, held at the Thyssen, I attended a conference by Mario Chagas, director of the Museum of the Republic in Rio de Janeiro. Chagas tells us how the museum became a vaccination center during the pandemic. I remember the graves recorded from a bird’s eye view, while Bolsonaro spoke of a “little flu.” Some two hundred and fifty thousand people were vaccinated at the Museum of the Republic. Chagas was reprimanded for “playing politics”; he responded that he was just vaccinating. Of course, he was playing politics: art without life is as ridiculous as life without art.
Chagas documented the pandemic through embroidery. There are experiences of illness, grief or recovery interpreted by the people who went there to embroider. Hannah Höch, Dadaist artist and inventor of photomontage, also reflects on embroidery in essays that put her in conversation with Lu Märten, writer and art critic, theorist and practitioner of the Proletkult: “We want to imbue art with a vital pulse, totality of life…” Professors Isabel García Adánez and Andrea Pérez Fernández rescue texts by Höch and Märten, some unpublished in German, in Two women with cat. Writings about the arts (Three sisters).
Two creators, concerned about the artistic education of proletarian women, as well as their role as subjects of art, find in embroidery and cut-out silhouettes a place to think about the functionality of the artistic, the minuscule or inconsequential, the elements craftsmanship inherent to the artistic, the suspicion that art can spring from the creativity of a woman who, suddenly, does not adhere in her crafts to the bourgeois pattern of embroidering beautiful violets. Höch and Märten question the canon and concept of beauty, with a political perspective and disturbing modernity, approaching art from a class and gender perspective to place the artistic on the side of matter and life. Of the improvement of the living conditions of working women, of women in general and of women who paint, read, write, invent and are condemned to precariousness and almost never being taken seriously. Today we do not renounce the greatness of that art that was denied to us because our duty was to care for and keep the fire burning – economic reasons hidden by our lack of spirit and aptitudes. Nor do we renounce that other art, humble and beautiful, which is a capital accumulated with our “small” domestic finds. You have to be very careful with women who learn. Those who read in groups. Those who embroider and, one day, prick their finger.
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