[Image explanation and translation: six window strip with Mafalda. Mafalda calls out, “bureaucracy!” in the first window. Windows two through to five she sits on a chair, looks around, reads a newspaper, stares blankly into space and waits. Window six her tortoise arrives and she greets him with, “your lettuce leaf”.]
In a square in San Telmo, a relatively old (and fairly touristy) barrio in Buenos Aires sits a bench with a statue of Mafalda. The statue was installed there in 2009 honouring the work of Quino (whose house is just across) and in recognition of the place the comics hold in the collective memory of the argentina’s reading classes. Each day bunches of people sit by her and have their pictures taken. And not all the hard-earned cynicism from a life being lived stops me from being one of them.
One of the (many) things I love about Mafalda is the variety of relationships she has with people around her. The comic would collapse pretty quickly if she weren’t surrounded by a group of friends and family that supported, challenged and annoyed her in about equal measures (shades of Buffy anyone?). Which is why I felt compelled to leave by her side, a crocheted tortoise and a note bearing the legend, “Porque Mafalda siempre tenía amigos” (because Mafalda always had friends).
How is that for a first in daytime yarn graffiti?
the situation is always.. fluid. (Yes, that is a misquote from Firefly)
My relationship with crafting has always been complex. And often complicated. I hated all things girly growing up. Partly on principle and partly because I wasn’t particularly interested in them. But I had a grandmother who was immensely talented and incredibly persistent, so I learnt how to embroider neatly and mend tidily (to this day, I turn over anything I’ve made to see if the back of my work would meet her exacting standards). But apart from the basics, I had no interest or skill in making things. Until I came to New Zealand that is. I realised pretty quickly that a) things I like are excessively overpriced, b) I needed to get out of the habit of converting everything back to rupees before deciding whether or not I should buy it and c) quite a lot of things I like just aren’t made here.
So started my journey of getting to know crafting again. Which was made more fraught by the compounding factor of being a (peripheral) part of the Wellington anarchist scene. Turns out most political activists have entertainingly silly ideas about craft. This is owed in part to a tendency for everything in their lives needing an intellectual political justification. Life should further the struggle and at the very least not be counter-revolutionary. In itself, I have no problem with this statement, but breaking it down presents some problems. Turns out furthering the struggle requires you to: be over-committed and under-appreciated, capable of couching emotional issues in intellectual terms (thus maintaining a suitable objective distance from whatever it is that you’re passionate about), sublimate or deny aspects of yourself that do not fit into the revolutionary hierarchy of needs, and pretend that we’re all on a level playing field and power (who has it and who doesn’t) isn’t an issue.
Crafting, in this context, can be situated either in the political sphere or the apolitical sphere. If you’re someone whose crafting serves a political purpose this purpose can be used to justify it. If you’re someone who crafts for pleasure you can claim it as non-activisty activity and make sure it doesn’t impinge on your activism. If you’re someone for whom crafting is an aspect of self-care you can justify it as being necessary for your continued participation in the political sphere. If you’re someone who doesn’t particularly want to justify crafting in any way you either need to have enough privilege to be able to get away with that, or you need to withdraw from the scene.
I like making things because it is fun. And it gives me pleasure to have mastered a skill. And while I do think there is value in reclaiming crafts that have been lost, in my case, it’s simply not the case. The crafts I do are being done by countless others, usually with far less control over what they do and badly paid to boot. And while it’s tempting to say that I’m reuniting with my means of production through craft, that’s a pretty specious argument for me too. Making my own soap/dresses does not take me out of a capitalist framework and the fact that I don’t have to and can opt out makes it entirely ridiculous for me to pretend that it does. I do think the world needs fewer ugly things though… or more specifically, I need fewer ugly things. So I make them less ugly and keep them or give them to people I like.
That is all.