Thinking Through Pink




When we were kids, one of my brother's favourite colours was pink. I, on the other hand, loathed it; a rebellion against the ubiquity of the colour for little girls, and a loyalty to my tomboy nature (I was the girl always climbing trees and enthralled by creepy crawlies). Where did it all go wrong? Why do I now own at least seven pink dresses, and am happy to be snapped prancing around in a salmon candy-striper frock?


My parents tried all they could to evade gender stereotypes (my beloved bright yellow Tonka truck attests to that), but it seems I've waltzed right into one; I've turned out decidedly girly. And what do I blame this disturbing phenomenon on? Why, on the young modern feminist art movement, of course!

Tumblr is awash with young feminists "reclaiming their girlhood"; as Beth Siveyer, founder of Girls Get Busy, writes in the fourteenth issue of the zine, "I can be strong and feminine, and it doesn't matter what people think (...) I'm 24 years old and I'm finally ready to be pretty in pink."

Image of Girls Get Busy #14 - 3 for £3

When I was discussing this with my Mum the other day, she commented that she'd recently had to buy some gardening gloves for a group of young people she would be working with. The gloves came in two colours; pink, and blue. In the end she had to go with the blue gloves, because, she conceded, the boys in the group simply wouldn't wear pink gloves. I'm inclined to think that this would not be because of an aversion to the colour, but an aversion to what the colour represented; an aversion to perceived femininity. Why is femininity so reviled? Why is "stop being such a girl" such a terrible insult? 

I would hazard a guess that it's because, historically, women have been the second sex, subjugated and weakened by a patriarchal society determined to keep men on top. This has lead to the impression that women themselves are intrinsically weaker, and so "feminine" behaviour is a sign of weakness. One need only take a glance at the Everyday Sexism Twitter feed, a deeply depressing but vital read, to realise that we are a long way from gender equality, and that a culture of "keeping women down" is still a very real and present danger (and I don't use that word lightly).

But, as Beth Siveyer writes, femininity can be a source of power. So too can pink. It is an audacious colour, a passionate colour, a sexual colour. A colour as varied as women themselves.

DENIM Feminine Is Not Anti-Feminist Patch featuring Rarity- My Little Pony
"Feminine Is Not Anti-Feminist" patch, by albinwonderland on  Etsy

However, pink can also be nauseating. Case in point, that ubiquity I mentioned; now more than ever, it seems there's almost no other choice for little girls than pink clothing, accessories, toys... the list goes on. As this article notes, "All the other colours of the rainbow will be washed away in an unending saccharine sea."

The backlash to this trend has resulted in the Pink Stinks campaign, focusing on combating the "dangerously narrow definition of what it means to be a girl" and the ways in which "pinkification" of girls leads to sexism and gender stereotyping, and an obsession with consumerism and body image.

 In my opinion, this is most certainly a laudable cause, though the name of the campaign does sound like an assault on the colour itself, rather than its use as a reductive marketing tool. A member of the modern feminist movement makes the suggestion (via Tumblr, of course) that the Pink Stinks campaign changes its name to Rethink Pink. Though this is a subtle change, I think it is a wonderful one; one can remain critical and aware whilst embracing the colour, that, for better or worse, has come to symbolise femininity.


It was not ever thus; indeed, in the early 1900s in the United States, a trade publication proclaimed that "The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl." It is interesting that here, pink is associated with strength, just as I posited that pink can be a powerful and audacious colour. However, strength is associated with masculinity and delicacy and daintiness is associated with femininity; why can't one be both strong and dainty? This combined strength and delicacy is what I feel I emanate when I choose to wear pink.

By a happy coincidence, one of my very favourite artist's thoughts on the matter chime precisely with my own. In an interview, Lily van der Stokker speaks about "the strength of pink curlicues"; there is strength in this apparently "weak" feminine softness.

Lily  van der Stokker, I am an artwork, 2004

But is it softness? For all its sweetness (indeed, because of its sweetness) van der Stokker's use of pink is nauseating, even abrasive. Pink can be harsh, abject, confrontational. It demands to be seen. Van der Stokker is certainly not ashamed of the femininity that pink implies, even if it horrifies the fine art bubble; she unabashedly proclaims girlyness to the world. 

A show of strength indeed.

I too, am happy to proclaim my femininity to the world, and to prove that it does not make me weak but in fact stronger. Since becoming more involved in the young feminist art movement, a number of my embroideries have started to explore themes of feminine strength, defiance of  gender roles and societal expectations, and incorporate pink into their colour scheme as a symbol of this.





I will continue to wear pink with pride and as a reminder of my feminine fortitude; I too am ready to be pretty in pink.

"A nice new winter coat"


I actually finished this latest page of What To Look For In Winter before I departed for Berlin, but had so much last minute packing etc. to do I didn’t find the time to post it here.
As with previous pages, I aimed for a marriage between the original text and the writing I laid over the accompanying image with needle and thread. The topic, too, is marriage; that of the narrator and “Winter”; a wintry fairytale.
As “The stoat in the foreground” of the illustration “has his semi-winter coat”, I thought I would clothe “Winter” in his best coat, keeping the cold out although he has “put the world on permafrost”.
He wore his best coat
(for it was Winter’s wedding)
And carried me over 
the ice.
scan0102scan0103
Winter carries the heroine over the threshold of the frozen lake and into his frozen fortress.
The next page of the original text, and my alteration of it, continue to mention coats… although they may not be all that they appear.
PS I borrowed the title of this blog post from one of my favourite Lily van Der Stokker wall paintings:

"Goodbye darling, goodbye".

Here for your viewing pleasure is the final completed page of On Being Soft.


In this page, I wanted to allude back to the Lily van der Stokker quotation which I used on the very first page of the book.


I decided to explore the theme of sentimentality listed in the van der Stokker quote.


I also wanted to reference the many handkerchiefs I have used throughout the book. This choice meant that this page would have a strong relationship with the first completed page, with its handkerchief about crying.


The text about handkerchiefs embroidered on to this final page reads "They absorb tears, mucus. They could be a white flag, a token of love, a flutter accompanied by "Goodbye darling, goodbye darling, goodbye"."


The significance of the image of a tunnel embroidered on to the page's pocket becomes apparent once the viewer reads the text and looks at the image embroidered on to the handkerchief folded inside it.

The text reads "The woman standing down the platform from me waved the train all the way out of the station. It was very beautiful and very sad."

This was once texted to me by my boyfriend after he waved me off at Paddington Station. The woman's actions clearly matched his sentimental mood!

The tunnel on the pocket is thus a train tunnel down which has disappeared the train the woman was waving to.

The text is accompanied by the silhouette of a woman in Victorian garb waving a handkerchief - making this a sort of meta-handkerchief!

Tomorrow I will post photographs of the completed book.





Sugar

The fourth completed page of On Being Soft is ready to share, which means I'm halfway through making the book (if you don't count putting it all together!)

As the pages are loosely based on different aspects of the Lily van der Stokker quote featured here, this page deals with sweetness.




My Mum found me some fantastic fabric embroidered with bees through a recycling scheme, which compliments the honeyed gold tones of the other fabrics I've used.


"Oh sweetheart, would you stoop so low as to swoon at my shriek of a smile carved out with an ice-cream scoop?" is a small segment of my own writing which makes me think of sickly sweetness, even in the ingratiatingly polite way that the "sweetheart" is addressed. The word "swoon" makes me think of drowsy bumble bees drunk on nectar. A "shriek of a smile" is one which is almost too sweet; one which will induce toothache, as do Lily van der Stokker's paintings and drawings.

I stitched the phrase on to a pocket edged with a bee-print fabric my Granny gave me. The tarnished silver beads scattered over the page belonged to my great-great aunts - the page is made from fabric and embellishments from four generations of women.



Poking out of the top of the pocket is a handkerchief. To tie the two together thematically, I embroidered an ice cream cone ("carved out with an ice cream scoop") on to the handkerchief.



The phrase embroidered on to the handkerchief was a comment I overhead a year ago on a day trip to Whitstable; "White dogs at the seaside - they look like they've been dipped in Daz". What's softer than a fluffy, white, Daz-dipped dog?!


When I bought the handkerchief it was already embroidered with sickly sweet, candyfloss pink and blue flowers, which I matched the text to.

On Being Soft

In anticipation of the Soft exhibition at The Mill in June, I am stitching a soft sculpture artist's book. 



  
The cover is constructed from a 1920s or '30s gold brocade curtain stuffed with wadding, to make the book, well, soft (my friend Alys mentioned that it could double up as a cushion).


The cover reads "On Being Soft - A work in progress by Kate Elisabeth Rolison". The pages inside will deal with notions of softness; of personality, of the female form, with the sense of touch, and more.


On the first page is a pocket made from blue and gold batik fabric, which bears a cross stitched quote by the artist Lily van der Stokker.








The quotation reads "Women can be sweet, sentimental, sensual, communicative, decorative, weak, emotional, and what else? They are very good at crying".


When I came across this quotation in van der Stokker's book It Doesn't Mean Anything But It Looks Good, it struck me that the qualities she was listing could be thought of as different kinds of softness. A particularly feminine softness, which was what I wished to explore in my book. 


I realise that some may see this quotation as anti-feminist, but I feel it (along with van der Stokker's work) celebrates the feminine aspect of womanhood. Indeed, van der Stokker describes herself as a "feminist conceptual pop artist"!


Below are some examples of van der Stokker's work, taken from It Doesn't Mean Anything But It Looks Good, published by Tate St Ives. The works are exuberantly, even nauseatingly, feminine and positive. In her book, van der Stokker is quoted speaking about "the strength of pink curlicues"; there is strength in this apparently "weak" feminine softness. The strength of softness is something we are aiming to explore in the Soft exhibition.










In It Doesn’t Mean Anything But It Looks Good, van der Stokker writes about how when “women refuse to hold back in their expression, we see artworks that are so different they can repulse and confuse us”. In the making of On Being Soft, I am embracing my own femininity, even those aspects of it which I have previously fought and which have nauseated me.


The pages of the book will be made to be touched, and explored; they will contain pockets which will themselves contain embroidered handkerchiefs.


I wanted the first handkerchief of the book to have a dialogue with the Lily van der Stokker quotation cross stitched on to the pocket which contains it. I focused on the last word of the quotation - crying.






The handkerchief reads ""Are you well?" (I'm welling up.)", illustrated by, yes, a wishing well, because I have a terrible weakness for appalling puns.


There are two voices in this text; the first, a polite enquirer, and the second my interior monologue, my silenced voice, bit tongue. The words (and tears) are trapped within the folded handkerchief, and the viewer has to delve into the pocket and unfold the fabric before they are released.

I've begun to think of the different things handkerchiefs can signify; nowadays they are almost invariably only the property of older people. They catch coughs and sneezes, they are witness to outpourings of emotions, they are used to dab away a furtive tear. In old films and cartoons, they wave away maiden voyages, they are waved out of rapidly departing trains at sweethearts. Moving even further (far further) back in time, they were given as “favours” to jousting knights.

On Saturday I will be visiting the Fashion and Textile Museum on Bermondsey Street, where the exhibition The Printed Square: Vintage Handkerchiefs is currently on display. I will report back later!