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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Pussy Hats are now classy collectibles


What questions does a pussyhat bespeak? “It’s about collective action, it’s about solidarity...”

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London gains a "Pussyhat"!

(What is a "Pussyhat"? It's a reclaim the word "pussy" as a term of empowerment, especially meaningful, considering the man who was inaugurated as president of the United States the day before the Woman's March in January, was once recorded saying that when you're a celebrity, you can do "anything" you want to women — like "grab her by the pussy.")

Those of us who are fortunate to visit the Victoria and Albert museum are left with an appreciation for the concept of "eclecticism"(deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources). 

In other words, in a stately "Londonish" sort of way, some of the collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum are, to be polite, "quaint".

 The London museum’s Rapid Response team acquires contemporary objects of topical importance. So, of course, they wanted a "pussyhat", a relic of the highly successful international 2017, womans march. But,  which one? In The New Yorker by Anna Russell.

In March 2017, the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London, unveiled the newest addition to its Rapid Response Collecting gallery: a pink pussyhat that was worn at the Women’s March in Washington, the day after Donald Trump’s Inauguration. The hat sits on a faceless mannequin head, ears slightly splayed, behind nonreflective glass. Next to it is a mounted card bearing the simple outline of a pussyhat in black pen, like a woke hieroglyph. (Aww, come on, Russell- in other words, the black pen graphic was "creepy"?)

The pussyhat’s elevation was the result of what Corinna Gardner, the Acting Keeper of the museum’s Design, Architecture, and Digital department, called a “robust conversation” among the members of the Rapid Response team in the days surrounding the march. The department, which was founded three years ago, is dedicated to acquiring contemporary objects of topical importance; recent additions include a blue burkini and an interactive Hello Barbie. Before an object makes it into the collection, it is subjected to intense scrutiny. Gardner gestured to a display of stilettos in five shades of “nude” behind glass. “I have to be able to say that these Louboutin shoes are as important as a seventeenth-century inlaid table,” she said.

The pussyhat cleared the historical-relevance hurdle easily, but the logistics of choosing and tracking down the right specimen were complex. “With something like the pussyhat, there are hundreds of thousands of them,” Gardner said, standing before the hat’s display case. She was wearing a navy dress and Nikes. “How do you know which one?”

The curators contacted Jayna Zweiman, an architectural designer in Los Angeles, who, along with a fellow-knitter, a screenwriter named Krista Suh, co-founded the Pussyhat Project. (The two friends had conceived of a pink, cat-eared hat for protesters to wear in solidarity, and when they posted the design online it went viral.) Over Skype, Zweiman discussed options with the curators. The museum wanted a hat that encapsulated the project from start to finish—and preferably one that had gone to Washington. Before the Inauguration, volunteer knitters had sent thousands of pussyhats to a Virginia collection center, which distributed them to marchers. In the rush to get them out, volunteers weren’t able to track every hat.

Zweiman told the curators that she could trace one of the hats that she’d knitted, because she’d sent it herself, with a note, to a friend of her college roommate, a real-estate developer and mother of three named Song Oh. Zweiman offered to ask Oh to send the hat to the museum, although she had misgivings. “There are some mistakes,” she said of her handiwork. “I’m definitely not a very good knitter.”

The curators didn’t mind. “We all consolidated around the object quite quickly,” Gardner said. “We see each object as a node, a material thing around which we can focus the bigger questions that bespeak how you and I live together, today and in the future.”

What questions does a pussyhat bespeak? “It’s about collective action, it’s about solidarity,” Gardner said. “And I think that knitting, craft, ‘craftivism’ is quite topical as well.” The pattern’s distribution over social media was also important. “To my mind, it’s something of a digital project,” Gardner said.

Another question, voiced by some perplexed onlookers at the march, was whether the hat was supposed to resemble a uterus. The hat takes its name from an “Access Hollywood” tape, released during the campaign, in which Trump boasts about his ability to “grab [women] by the pussy.”

“You can’t extract the object from that context,” Gardner said. “I mean, ‘pussy,’ ‘uterus’—they’re already words that some people might find quite challenging to vocalize in a public context.”

The museum has received some complaints. “There are lots of people who find it absolutely atrocious that this type of object is finding a home in the V. & A.,” Gardner said. But she likes the way it relates to other items in the museum’s holdings, such as a 1910 cup and saucer, stamped with the logo of the Women’s Social and Political Union, and a striped silk scarf, bearing the words “Votes for Women.” Perhaps other hats, too. Gardner said, “I’m not as familiar as I might be with the millinery collection.”

Kat Coyle, the owner of an L.A. yarn store called the Little Knittery, and the creator of the hat’s pattern, has tried to clear up the uterus confusion. “It wasn’t ever supposed to be anatomically related to the pussy,” she said. “It was more of a verbal pun.”

Gardner takes an academic view of the question. “I embrace it, because it’s part of the narrative of the object,” she said. “It’s not for me to say this is good, or bad, or, actually, it doesn’t look anything like a uterus—you should get real.” ♦

(Maine Writer opinion?  Donald Trump has certainly and unequivocally made knitting great again! Pink yarn preferred.)

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