The art of the unwelcome mat

As part of Myseum Intersections Festival, a group of artists learned rug-hooking in order to put a twist on the welcome mat


PRODUCTIVE DISCOMFORT as part of MYSEUM INTERSECTIONS FESTIVAL at Xspace Cultural Centre (303 Lansdowne). Mar 1-31 workshop 1-4 pm Mar 16. Free. myseumoftoronto.com.


Craft has long been associated with the feminine and the domestic, but the community aspect of handmade work is often glossed over.

With community in mind, curator Lauren Cullen assembled a group of seven artists to learn rug-hooking and create an “unwelcome mat.” The concept: bring perspectives that are often unwelcome – anti-racist, anti-colonial, anti-ableist and queer feminism – into the welcoming medium of rug-hooking. All are practising artists who work in other media, and over the past few months, the group met monthly to hook rugs together. The result is the group exhibition Productive Discomfort at Xpace Cultural Centre (303 Lansdowne, Unit 2), running through March 31 as part of the city-wide Myseum Intersections Festival running all month.

“I’ve been thinking about how craft teaches, beyond the technique of the craft,” Cullen says. “I was interested in thinking about the ways craft can be used as a vehicle for learning and unlearning.”

We spoke to five of the artists involved in the show to get the stories behind their unwelcome mats.

Productive Discomfort Jess Watkin

Laura Kenins

Jess Watkin, This Was Not Made For Your Visual Pleasure #pleasetouchme

“Working with yarns and my hands has always been a big part of my creative practice. I’m also blind, so a lot of my work is body practice. I have felt really compelled over the past year to make art that challenges the visuality of art, that challenges the conception that fine art needs to be aesthetically pleasing. I keep calling it a really ugly rug, and people get upset about it, but it is!

“It’s very fun to touch. It was designed not by a visual design, but by the materials and how they felt together. It was driven by touch, not by vision at all. It literally and metaphorically is not for anyone’s visual pleasure. I’m challenging you to think about what it means not to see things. Enjoy touching my ugly rug!”

Heidi Cho, Recently

“I primarily work in illustration. I’d been feeling a bit bored and wanting to try different materials. The theme is productive discomfort, so I used the theme to make a rug to address some of the uncomfortable themes of my life: working through vulnerabilities in your life, how has my childhood impacted how I move through the world – not necessarily a fun topic to think about, but alternately, I feel like in order for me to lead healthier relationships with myself or other people I’ve got to ask some of the harder questions that are scarier to think about.”

Productive_JamesYeboah1.jpg

Laura Kenins

James Yeboah, Sankofa: The Pursuit Of Ancestral Memory 1 & 2

“I’m first-generation Ghanian Canadian, my parents came from Ghana, and I don’t have access to the traditions, the language, as much as I’d like to. I don’t speak the language at all, so that removes me from my ancestry a lot, and being able to pass that down to the next generation is difficult, if not impossible.

“Sankofa Parts 1 and 2 is a way for me to piece together my culture and heritage, the unifying aspect is the kente cloth that’s hooked into [the rug] in the letters, the rug and the sculpture are a way for me to recontextualize my heritage. [Akwaaba] is one of the first words you see when you arrive in Ghana, and the rug is there for members of the African diaspora, to share it with.”

Susan Blight, An Unwelcome Mat For Our Times, Niwiiji Anishinaabeg

“The title is to reference the fact that it’s an unwelcome mat. The first part is in English so that all people could understand, and the second part is Anishinaabe, which addresses my community specifically – so the mat changes context depending on who’s viewing it. What’s on it are clan symbols, the governing structure of the Anishinaabe people, and those specific clan symbols are stewards of land, water and kinship.

“The phrase in English means ‘Anishinaabe land is protected,’ so an Anishinaabe person will see the clan system is protecting the water, but to somebody who might not understand our language, it could be more opaque. I was linking it to the idea that our land is protected by our relationships, but also to ongoing Indigenous resistance. I was interested in the idea of taking it from the floor and putting it on the wall, so that’s the first step in terms of taking away the welcome.”

Productive_Kaythi.jpeg

Laura Kenins

Kaythi, Our Lady Of Profound Failure

“I’ve been very interested in lesbian separatism for a couple of years. We can think of lesbian separatism as a site of profound failure, in the sense that a lot of projects were not successful and were really fraught from the beginning – there’s a lot of issues around race, class and colonization.

“There are a lot of reasons for the failure of lesbian separatist projects. If lesbians are completely isolated from the community, they don’t know what’s happening on the ground, they have a really hard time staying relevant – in addition to a lot of prominent lesbians holding very reactionary positions, sometimes deeply oppressive positions. I’m interested in mining that history for ideas about what we can do as a community to improve ourselves, to move forward, but also for non-lesbians to think more critically about why lesbians might feel the need to separate from society.”

@birch_control

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