Jovencio de la Paz "Double Shadow 1.0" (detail)

SDA Book Club: “The New Politics of the Handmade” reviewed by Faith Hagenhofer

This month’s SDA Book Club review comes to us from our recurring reviewer, Faith Hagenhofer. For September, Faith reviews “The New Politics of the Handmade” edited by Anthea Black and Nicole Burisch

“The New Politics of the Handmade: Craft, Art and Design” edited by Anthea Black and Nicole Burisch, reviewed by Faith Hagenhofer

True confession: I always check out the footnotes and I judge a book by whether the footnotes have inspired me to read further using the references in them. The essays contained in “The New Politics of the Handmade” are well researched and supported, and I’d better clear a shelf for all the fascinating materials I have been led to. Early on some defining of terms occurs: The work is handmade, and uses the skills, techniques and materials generally associated with craft (even when using a 3D printer). As the title suggests, the work of The Hand is always situated and contextualized, in a way that discussions of fine arts rarely are. With these as a framework this collection asks how craft & making are part of positive world changing. Can craft as product and/or practice “gently drive social justice initiatives”? (p.5) The questions of HOW these works or practices can effect the world is answered differently in each example. As the editors say in closing their introduction “Craft, in all of its diverse forms, remains a mode of production that is intimately tied to adaptation of identity, culture and survival to meet personal and collective needs.” Some essays focus on labor, which is somewhat unusual in theoretical writing. One calls for an expansion of a vocabulary of aesthetics to describe craft-based artwork: Is it passionate, genuine, cute, quirky, and on. The scope is largely North American, mostly addressing the political realities of this history and place.

The seventeen essays in this collection, by 24 authors, are a mix of craft theory, individual artist profiles, and, as craft work lends itself to group work and social practices, considerations of these. It is this latter group that most energized me- the essay on Theaster Gates’ Chicago based Soul Manufacturing Corporation project and the attention to those who labor within it; Blanca Serrano Ortiz de Solo`ranzo’s essay on Cuban Art in the 1990s, most of which were collective projects, practicing bricolage due to material scarcity; “Things Needed Made” by Nasrin Himada, which presents a film review (Khiam 2000-2007) of the unbelievable work made by prisoners inside an Israeli prison of the same name; and the essays on Margarita Cabrera and Ursula Johnson who both have solo practices, community practices, and performance work. This is a dense collection, meant to be read slowly and chewed on. 

Faith Hagenhofer, is a fiber artist, shepherd, retired librarian, and has been involved with Surface Design Association for more than a dozen years. She serves as the South Puget Sound (Washington, US) SDA contact.

  • Publisher: Bloomsbury (buy it here)
  • Date: December 2020
  • ISBN: 9781788316552

If you’ve read this book, leave a comment and let us know what you think!

Do you have a recommendation for a recent fiber-related book you think should be included in SDA’s Book Club? Email SDA’s Managing EditorLauren Sinner, to let her know!

1 Comment

  • Christine Aaron says

    September 11, 2021 at 7:40 pm

    Really enjoying these periodic book reviews and am adding many to my own library. Thank you!

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