Thursday, July 1, 2010
True Patriot Love
Reason Over Passion, cotton construction, (1968)
Joyce Wielend made this quilt for the prime minister of Canada, Pierre Elliot Trudeau.
Joyce Wieland, O Canada Animation (1970)
The 71 mouths forming the words to the national anthem are embroidered in red lips and white teeth on cotton.
I thought I would use Canada Day as an excuse to share work from Joyce Wieland's 1971 retrospective True Patriot Love, which was held at the National Gallery in 1971. Wieland is considered the first woman to elevate traditional female crafts such as embroidery and quilting to the realm of high art. The work in the show included rug hooking, needle point, embroidery and quilting as well as experimental film. Many of the pieces reflect on ideas of Canadian identity, politics, gender and ecology. Despite some of the serious subjects addressed by the work, the pieces themselves are quite playful, colourful and cheeky.
The act of quilting has often traditionally been collaborative work, and in the case of this show, Wieland worked with many skilled craftswomen on her fabric pieces. While it is common for an artist who is working on a large-scale piece to utilize external help, what makes this exhibition distinct is that all the needlewoman involved in Wieland’s projects were given credit for their work in the show. In comparison, when Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party was exhibited eight years later, American critic Lauren Rabinovitz noted “Chicago neither paid her assistants nor formally acknowledged their help.” While her work was clearly influenced by other artists incorporating feminist ideas into their work in the late sixties and early seventies, the specificities of Wieland's work were totally unique and innovative at the time when she was working.