Knitting Needles, Patterns & Dress Form

Found materials provide inspiration for thought-provoking art. Clare Graham & Moryork: The Answer is Yes, is currently exhibited in the Craft & Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles. Clare Graham provides social commentary with basic materials that are used to create clothing, such as knitting needles, patterns, and a dress form.

I was most drawn to Graham’s cabinets that were decorated on the outside to provide a preview of the creative artisanry inside. One cabinet was decorated with pattern paper that looked like it came from a men’s shirt pattern. When I opened the cabinet, I was presented with a male dress form that was surrounded by encased toy soldiers and colorful knitting needles. The details of each toy solider were not perceivable since they were encased in a gray shell that blurred their unique positions, and suggested their uniformity. The prevailing theme seemed to be a controlled and constricted male body, especially since the male dress form was surrounded by both knitting needles, and the encased toy soldiers.

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In this piece, Clare Graham challenges male conformity to mainstream masculine social norms. With the sharp, dynamic lines of the work, Graham adds theatricality to the male body to suggest a passive role to be gazed at. The toy soldiers represent stereotypical male roles as protectors and defenders; however, their encasement suggests limitations. In Graham’s artistic representation, the dress form has toy soldiers pinned to him to emphasize the stereotypical protective male role. The knitting needles that surround the dress form suggest playfulness, and challenge norms associated with masculinity. The frame of encased soldiers that surrounds the knitting needles subverts this idea, especially as the knitting needles appear more like sharp weapons for combat when framed. Graham presents a tension in what is traditionally masculine with the controlled male body, his tailored clothing, and his ambiguous role in society as encased, constricted, and protected with no freedom of movement. Graham suggests the complexity of male bodies and identities as they navigate through expectations of mainstream society.

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