Craft Is Political
“Each essay is a provocation to embrace craft as an agent of change” writes editor D Wood in her introductory essay, as making confronts the passivity of social moments and movements, transforming craft objects into active engagements with structures of power, which separates making from industrial production. This is not a history of craft and political movements, but deliberate choices in time that are unearthed, handled with care, and shared.
Craft is Political is craft with teeth bared. No hiding behind the trappings of commercial viability or neutrality in trying to fit in the space between fine art and hobby crafts. The global context of the book is a feat. The book is unapologetically political, words and work honed to a fine point, a needle whose eye the authors expertly thread. A collection of 16 essays and authors from across craft disciplines, the book itself is deceptively small, for all its dense ideas, compact into a slim volume. The text is foliage that catches our eye, and we must follow to the roots, the notes, for further reading.
In her introductory essay, editor D Wood asks the reader the seminal question: Why place craft in a political context? Each essay takes that question as a point of departure and investigation. Dense and academic, the essays cover a large swath of craft practices, and are divided into three sections of legacy, practice, and world view. Each essay should be read on its own, to give it time for the seeds to germinate its ideas, as reading one after another in too-quick succession you lose the nuance, like visiting too many museums in a single day and your eyes glancing at objects but not really taking them in. The reader is meant to savour each essay. Reading it the whole way through in one sitting is difficult, and maybe that’s the point. You’re meant to lean into your discomfort of learning something new, and continuing further research by your own initiative.
This book is a selective foray into political craft practices and ideas. The reader is given glimpses of a rapid train of thought. Great bibliographies serve as resource guides after each article allows the reader to go forth and expand their knowledge on a particular topic.
The book actively rejects a historicist chronology of craft, and directly addresses provocations and colonialism through discussions and investigations of material culture. Rather than meandering through definitions of what constitutes craft, it is craft’s close presence in everyday life that highlights its use and politically charged context throughout the essays as a common thread.
The book’s compact format does not allow for large, full colour glossy images (an absence I felt keenly), with the black and white photos only giving a tantalizing glimpse of the subject matter at hand. Also absent is an essay that centres LGBTQIA+ issues, as well as disability activism, whose craft interventions have a long history whose absence is keenly felt. A mention of the AIDS Memorial Quilt without a full essay about the socio-political machinations that made the project a necessity is a missed opportunity.
Wood hits upon a main point of tension at the end of her essay in section two on Craft Practice, wherein she makes the point that the conflation of politics and craft can be a detriment for the material survival of craftspeople under capitalism. From canceled shows to less commissions, wearing your politics on your sleeve (and in your craft) can have detrimental effects within a market context.
Fernando Alberto Álvarez Romero's articulates succinctly the tensions between extraction capitalism and the reciprocal nature of traditional craft. For me, this essay hit the nail on the head regarding the schism between crafts: capitalist production versus traditional ideology. What does traditional entail? Who decides what ‘tradition’ means?
The third section is the heavy hitter: does the authenticity of something matter more than sincerity of the craftsperson? This leads into former Studio editor-in-chief Leopold Kowolik’s essay on authenticity, which I read to address the tensions of intention and action within making.
Each essay in this volume either tiptoes around, or confronts head on, the tensions between crafts' political role and how much these politics are manufactured as a response to the rampant dangers of late stage capitalism?
In what sense are craft objects commodities forced into narratives to serve capitalist interests at the expense of craftspeople? Is all craft political? Can craft be neutral, and does the very stance of ‘neutrality’ belie a privilege? Craft is always political, and craft anthropologist Geoffrey Gowlland argues that we must always examine who has vested interest in its promotion and dissemination as national identity, with Indigenous craft in particular.
Ben Sakoguchi’s "All Art's political. Period.", this quote resonates outward from the text into perceptions of everyday craft. This volume encourages a more thoughtful, personal approach to craft that we encounter in our lives. This volume is a must-read for anyone who has interest in craft beyond craft as an object.
From materials to movements, the essays in this book disrupt the craft canon, and to borrow the words of ceramicist Heidi McKenzie, the volume "stand[s] tall, proud, defiant and 'weaponized'".
Craft is Political can be purchased through Bloomsbury.