This work refers to the annual international campaign to challenge violence against women and girls – 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (25 November to 10 December) which commences on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and ends on Human Rights Day. It was initiated in 1991 by the first Women’s Global Leadership Institute, at Rutgers University.
This is one of 50 panels from The Daily Diminish, devised with feminist philosophies of art for social change. Initiated by artists Sarah McEwan (CAD Factory) and Julie Montgarrett (Charles Sturt University), the project documents the ubiquitous forms of sexist language that Australian women from diverse backgrounds experience daily. The multiple black calico panels refer to domestic scale textiles such as quilts and pillows and carries a single quotation hand-written in bleach and embroidered in red text, to record each woman’s feelings when encountering the words. Through public display, the work aims to highlight the overt and subtle ways in which sexist commonplace social commentaries and denigration work to undermine women’s individual agency, ambition, and confidence for self-determination. These kinds of statements attempt to enforce compliance to ensure obedience to stereotypical cultural norms and aims to curb women’s behaviours through repeated reminders of the expected observance of gendered roles and often implied violence.
The works were first commissioned in 2016 for future/public as part of Artlands, the National Regional Arts conference in Dubbo, NSW and echoes the ethos of earlier feminist second-wave art by women such as Jenny Holzer, Miriam Shapiro, Barbara Kruger, Martha Rosler as well as far older embroidered samplers by Elizabeth Parker. The panels intentionally fail to meet the narrowly defined standards expected of finely crafted textiles— as neat, aesthetically refined pleasing objects for wealthy, privileged patrons. As part of a long history of disobedient objects they refuse the restrictions of discipline and training required of women to either demonstrate ‘feminine behaviours’ or to endure lives as impoverished, exploited labourers – the fundamental roles which have constrained women for centuries.
By locating The Daily Diminish in the public spaces of conservative regional cities with entrenched, patriarchal values is an intentionally subversive, self-conscious disruption of the status quo. The panels were vandalised when first exhibited in Dubbo – torn down and damaged which points to relationships between casual verbal sexism and actualized physical violence against women and also underlines the capacity for textile to record this violence. By mending, and patching with hand and machine embroidery, the damage remains visible and the repairs become evidence of resilience and resistance. This damage also points to anthropologist Michael Taussig’s theories of defacement as a form of “knowing what not to know” – secrets hidden by collective, unspoken agreements. Taussig identifies the act of defacement as a form of a form of desecration —the tearing of a surface to reveal what is otherwise hidden and unspoken, for example—as a powerful response intended to challenge and unsettle these collective knowledges.