Wednesday, 19 August 2020

The nags name is context and intersectionality


This is a picture of me in 1987, taken a year after moving to Australia from New Zealand. Sitting in front of my industrial sewing machine I’m working in the garage of the house I rented in Sydney. I still own and use that same industrial sewing machine and the lamp over it. I made and designed that black and white polka dot dress I’m wearing.


I taught myself how to sew in the early 1980s because I wanted to make clothes that appealed to me. Clothes that were outside of mainstream “fashion” that couldn’t easily be found in conventional clothing shops. In 1984 I went to Auckland Technical Institute and attained a certification as a qualified Patternmaker and Sample Machinist. I still use my skill as a patternmaker today to earn income selling PDF sewing patterns in my Etsy shop.

Pearl Red Moon Etsy Shop

Before getting qualified as a patternmaker I had a small business selling my handmade clothes. Many older New Zealanders will remember the fabulous Cook Street Markets in Auckland. I was a stallholder there for 3 years selling clothes I designed, stenciled, dyed and sewed. I also put some of the high art clothes I made in exhibitions – nearly 40 years ago! – and was a finalist in the Benson and Hedges Fashion Awards 1985, in the leisure/casual wear section with a garment called "Aviator". Well known NZ fashion designer Susan Holmes was my mentor and I worked in her studio as a sewist.


Contextualising myself and the horse I've ridden in on

A year ago, in the brief minutes that I was signed on to follow her IG, Aja Barber wrote this to me “nobody knows you, nobody listens, nobody cares”. Then she deleted comments I’d made and has blocked me ever since.

Her words are true. I am an international nobody and quite comfortable with it. I’m just a textile artist with 9 sewing machines who tries to make a living selling the clothes I make with my hands. She is a hugely successful social media influencer whose business is to grow her following and keep producing content to feed the consumers.


coat made 2019. Upcycled fabrics, stenciled, free painting, patchwork. The design is my "Zambeesi" PDF sewing pattern

The picture is a jacket made 2019. 100% upcycled fabrics. Patched, stenciled, free painted. The garment is my "Zambeesi" PDF sewing pattern.


I started this blog 11 years ago to talk about my life and art. It’s a public diary I share with others. The most important function it serves for me is to document my art making contextualising myself as an artist in contemporary society and how I interact with current social mores, politics and trends. Its an archive I hope will survive my physical existence that might be interesting to artisans of the future.

Many blog posts discuss my anxiety over climate change and environmental degradation and how I’ve consequently adapted my art practise trying be an ethical and sustainable textile worker. I wrote about my distress for the Rana Plaza disaster when it happened. Various posts over the years outline my awareness of the exploitation of the fast fashion industry related to globalization. Recorded here are my radical leftie anti-capitalist political views. I talk about how being a person on the autistic spectrum affects my life and art. Lots of discussion how other issues in society impact my day to day art practise, such as the cultural appropriation of technique, imagery and costume from other races and cultures.

When I entered the discourse regarding how non-Japanese use the word “kimono” some people automatically assumed I must be an angry white supremacist old Karen blowing fart wind at BIPOC peeps because I hate non-white skin. (I am one of the few “whiteys” in my family. More of my relatives are Maori than Pakeha). I totally reject being “white” invalidates having integrity to comment and to outline a view. Some people will still think that is a racist view too…..

A lot of people who’ve criticized my input to the “kimono” debate are actively striving to reduce me to this….

Simply a racist Karen. Just that. End of story. Shut up and go away.



Above is a fairly typical message regularly received from people who think I’m stalking Aja. 

There is an “ugly racist attack” narrative she is actively trying to construct about me to make sure nobody listens to the more complex and nuanced discourse I want to make about fast fashion, capitalism, appropriation and exploitation of clothing workers in the globalized manufacturing system.

Her business is producing content to grow her platform followers and gain income from that. From the amount of IG platforms that have sprung into existence lately monetising outrage against racist white supremacy and simultaneously capitalizing on white shame it is apparently a top earner to be spruiking.

My daily occupation is making clothes to sell. I’ll keep on doing it today and tomorrow and won’t be shutting up putting my commentary out there. I can be and are getting censored on IG. But no matter how many furious people run after me with gaffer tape I'll keep on writing whateverthefuck I want on this blog.

My views aren’t simplistic slogans or reductionist critique that clothing industry exploitation is all just a racist issue. The true story is incredibly complicated, and racism does comprise a part of it, but the meta narrative encompasses way more complexity. In modernism followers prefer their advocates to serve up easily digestible bite sized chunks of meme. Life is busy and hard, I can understand that.





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If you are interested in buying an artwork or booking a commission, please email me at pearl@upstairs-art.com.au