The explicit nudes in needlepoint, the erotica rendered on a quilted duvet cover, the expletive-laden hooked rugs, the remarkably detailed (and anatomically accurate) knitted sculpture of body parts — the sheer subversive glee of these works may delight or disgust, depending on your point of view. But keep turning the pages of the new book “Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community,” and it’s clear that the goal of co-editors John Chaich and Todd Oldham is not so much shock as it is awe: to wonder how these artists have taken embroidery, macramé, crochet and other familiar crafts into such unfamiliar territory.
The book spun out of an exhibition Chaich curated at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York in 2014. The work of 30 LGBTQ artists from around the world unfurls in pictures across more than 100 pages, followed by interviews with the artists conducted by the likes of Bill T. Jones, Michael Cunningham and Tim Gunn.
In the first Q&A, Nathan Vincent tells Jonathan Adler about his experimentation with yarn in a college art class. “The first thing I made was a crocheted penis,” Vincent says. “My classmates and professors thought it was funny, and it made me ask myself: ‘Is this funny because the object is something very masculine made out of a very feminine process? Who is telling us this is funny?’”
In another interview, Pierre Fouché tells Chaich that he finds inspiration in the Vermeer painting “The Lacemaker,” and that he’s “drawn to how Vermeer used the camera obscura and traced and toned shadows.” Elsewhere, Ramekon O’Arwisters explains how his Crochet Jam event is rooted in memories of growing up black and gay in the Jim Crow South, and Diedrick Brackens tells of his early fascination with West African strip-weaving traditions as well as the so-called kill the gays movement in Uganda to rid the country of gay people. Among Brackens’ pieces featured in “Queer Threads”: the silhouette of a black unicorn rendered against vibrant green and yellow kente cloth.
Jai Andrew Carrillo speaks of growing up in Mexico and wanting to learn to knit like his grandmother but being told, “Boys don’t knit.” Instead, his father wanted him to box. Years later, the artist channeled that memory into boxing gloves made of silk and satin. Because they’re so soft, Carrillo says, the objects invite a caress rather than a punch. “The gloves don’t make you want to fight.”
“Queer Threads” is published by Ammo and available through Arcana: Books on the Arts in Culver City.