Mars’ Hill: Tell us a bit about your project, “A Testimony in Cloth.” 
Bailey Snider: A Testimony in Cloth is a project that came out of a socially engaged art class I’m in this semester, which pretty much means it is an art project that is focused on working with a community and creating relationships as an art form. I really wanted to work with the women of TWU and hear more about the sexism that they face, because honestly it isn’t something that’s talked about a lot. I wanted to explore the things that women are told to carry with them that make them feel lesser or as though they are unable to be the equals of their male counterparts, and bring it together with my love for embroidery. A few weeks ago, I held an event where women, and men, were invited to come together to talk about sexism and the subtle things that have been said to them and to embroider them on their clothes as a kind of badge of honor.

 

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MH: What/who are some of the inspirations behind this piece? 
BS: Honestly so many artists and projects inspired this piece, but I suppose it all began when Elizabeth Warren was silenced in congress a while ago. I had been looking all day for a quote to embroider on a pair of pants when I saw the quote from the house majority leader who silenced her saying “nevertheless she persisted” and I decided that would be what I embroidered on my pants. I had so much fun and felt vaguely rebellious in what I now deem my “political pants,” and so I began to think others might want to share that amazing feeling that comes when you wear the words someone used to try and keep you down. Once I began researching, I was immediately inspired by the art of embroidery itself and the countless amazing female textile artists who have come before me. Embroidery has such a rich history, and so much of it is about valuing the work of women less than that of men. Not only does it fit my project extremely well, but it is genuinely fascinating to read about. I read Rozsika Parker’s book, The Subversive Stitch and I learned about a different side of art: the unappreciated feminine side. For example, Freud didn’t like the idea of women embroidering, he thought it would lead to hysteria because it allowed women quiet time to think, which is obviously dangerous.

 

MH: How has sexism impacted you personally? 
BS: Because, I believe, sexism is a problem so ingrained into society, it is difficult to pinpoint all the direct impacts it has. However, I would say sexism’s biggest impact on my life would be feeling constantly underestimated. I suppose I dress and look fairly traditionally feminine, and because of this people often feel the need to help me or assume that I don’t have the skills and abilities to do things for myself.  At my event, I told the story of the first time I ever really felt like a feminist. It was in wood shop when I was in high school and no one expected me to be able to use the power tools, let alone build anything. Admittedly I like wearing dresses, but that in no way means that I cannot build a beautiful bedside table or barbeque meat or whatever other traditionally masculine activity I so choose. It is because of this that I have chosen to embroider the words “are you sure you don’t want me to do that?’ onto my dress. As a reminder that I am a strong and independent woman who does not rely on the help of others.

 

MH: How have you seen sexism at play in your world? Is it a problem at TWU? 
BS: This semester in particular I have spent a lot of time looking at the sexism in the world. There is so much that is obviously sexist, but the small things that people do or say that could easily go unnoticed which undermine women’s place in society is, in my opinion, almost the more dangerous kind. You can see it everywhere from girls being called bossy instead of having leadership skills or blaming a woman’s moodiness on her period. At TWU, the sexism I have seen is more the internalized kind. Honestly, the number of times I have been trying to move something heavy with someone and they have told me that “we need a guy to help,” is a bit out of control. Feminism itself is somehow seen as a bad thing.  I took a PHIL 210 course and I remember on the day we were discussing feminism, Professor Doede asked who amongst us were feminists and only two other people raised their hands. I was so surprised because I grew up in a fairly feminist household and never thought it was that radical of an idea to think that women should be equal to men.

 

MH: How do you hope wearing these words will affect women and men? 
BS: Rozsika Parker has this great quote in which she writes, “The needle is used to repair damage. It is a claim to forgiveness. It is never aggressive, it’s not a pin.” I think this really gets to the heart of what I wanted for my participants: to provide some level of healing. By taking ownership of the sexist comments and literally wearing them, they lose their power to control you. The words become a source of power, a reminder that you have been faced with sexism and that you have overcome it. I was really excited that there were men that came too because I think that acknowledging sexism cannot be exclusively for women. The patriarchy is harmful to everyone, and everyone should believe in gender equality. That was also something I love about having people actually wear the comments. I hope that by wearing the words people may stop and ask participants what they mean; that through these conversations about people’s personal experiences with sexism, awareness will spread.
MH: Do you see this project influencing your future art practice in any way? 
BS: When I signed up for this class I genuinely had no clue what socially engaged art was, or what creating a project like this would entail. I remember reading one of our textbooks about socially engaged art and coming to the conclusion that I was going to have to plan an event that would involve other people. As an introvert, I immediately felt uncomfortable with the idea. Any time you create something that pushes you so far out of your comfort zone, you can pretty much bet that it is going to inform your future work. I was surprised by how excited I was when I finally came up with an idea and even more surprised by how much I enjoyed the event itself. I would actually love to create more socially engaged art projects, and I am pretty sure that I will never stop embroidering now that I have started.
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