Long before the popularisation of ‘pussy hats‘, Makeda Duong was embroidering and knitting artworks with strong feminist messages. In our latest spotlight, Makeda tells us about the importance of textiles, and why Deborah Prior inspires her.
Q: Hello Makeda! Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?
A: Hi! It’s great to be featured in Collage! I graduated from UniSA in 2013 with a Bachelor of Visual Arts, specialising in Textiles. They decided to cut the textiles course while I was still finishing it, and ever since then, some local textile artists and I have been on a bit of a crusade for textiles, trying to educate people about its place in the visual arts, and how it’s not just ‘craft’. My work focusses on the cultural construction of femininity and how this relates to the mediums of knitting and embroidery.
Q: Who inspires you? What inspires your art?
A: I’m inspired by women. Women in my life who I know, women who lived before I did and left behind a legacy of beautiful needlework. My work makes me feel very connected to all that history.
At the moment with the women’s marches, I feel encouraged by the strength and tenacity of women around the world who stand up for their rights, such as the women who lived before us and protested so we could have the rights that we do now.
I also find a lot of inspiration from current trends on the internet, like memes and such, as well as theoretical writing on gender! Sometimes I’ll be walking down the street and see a particular piece of clothing or textile and it’ll make me want to try out a new technique.
Q: Do you have a preferred medium?
A: I can’t decide which I like better, embroidery or knitting. I can also crochet and have used lace techniques in the past. I think both mediums are very labour intensive and time based. You need a lot of patience to be any good at either, especially embroidery – there’s a certain perfection associated with it. Every stitch needs to be carefully placed, it’s very deliberate and forces you to concentrate, even though I still watch Netflix while I’m making!
Q: How would you describe your style?
A: I like to take patterns or objects that seem innocuous, or even grandmotherly, and subvert them, usually by hiding something naughty or confronting in the work. I use a lot of pink and red, purely because it represents femininity. There is a side to my work that’s pretty tongue-in-cheek and makes fun of the whole art/craft hierarchy – it has a sense of humour. Then there’s the more serious conceptual works which are more about questioning what exactly about textiles is supposedly feminine, and why our culture insists on assigning particular characteristics to each gender.
Q: Can you please describe your artistic and creative process i.e.: from lingering idea to putting it into practice?
A: Sometimes I get an idea for an artwork just from hearing about something in popular culture, or from reading a line in a particular book, or from browsing on the web. It usually appears as some vision of the work I want to produce (that never turns out the way I imagined!). Depending on what I want to do, I usually start sketching out a design in my journal (which I don’t use nearly as much as I’m supposed to). If I’m planning out a design that needs to be knitted, that’s a more complicated process as there’s a bit of maths involved, and a lot of graph paper!
Q: Where do you see your art practice taking you in the next five years?
A: I’d love to do an international residency in the next few years, but it’s difficult to choose one that suits what I’d like to do. I’d love to learn more textiles skills. I’d just like to continue making and exhibiting work and finding any avenues to do that.
Q: If you could recommend one artist, who would it be?
A: Deborah Prior. Her work focuses on religion and the body, and she uses knitting and embroidery as well. I’d never seen installations quite like hers before. They seem to combine the allure of delicate femininity with the ‘monstrous female body’ – pink knitted intestines, pearls, and lots of flesh coloured fabrics.
Q: What is your favourite gallery?
Q: Where can we find more of your work?
Q: Apart from your birthday, what’s your favourite day of the year?
A: I really don’t know how to answer this question! It’s tempting to say Christmas day, but I usually don’t get a lot of artwork done on that day! I guess any day where I get to spend some time to myself stitching away, preferably with friends, is a great day.