Michelle Anais Beaulieu-Morgan is a cross stitch and hand embroidery artist working across a broad spectrum of needle-work, ranging from patches to abstract art works. She is undoubtedly a mover-and-shaker and she creates from a place of knowing that if you don’t like something, then change it. Read More … Physical objects can be powerful tools that allow us to be better global citizens, passionately engaged and not passively consuming, and in ways that won’t harm our world. Let’s live intentionally and leave positive imprints behind us.
When did you begin to embroider?
I began on February 4, 2015. For Christmas, my ex-girlfriend-current-best-friend gifted me a small “subversive cross stitch” kit in my stocking. I quickly started looking online for cross stitch patterns, came across the world of embroidery, and haven’t looked back since. That said, prior to taking up cross stich I worked at times in mixed media and cut paper. I took a long artistic hiatus to focus on my PhD program, in between.
What is the purpose behind your craft?
I make things because I have to—I’m not sure how else to explain it. I went through a period in graduate school where I didn’t make anything for many years, and I became severely depressed. There were other factors, of course, and depression is complicated, but it got to the point where I felt alienated from myself as a human, producing academic work with no real sense of why or who I was speaking to outside a few specialists, and just generally feeling incredibly sad and disheartened by the competitiveness and the end-goal rather than process-oriented nature of academia. I read Ann Cvetkovich’s Depression: A Public Feeling, and knew that I simply had to start making things again. I love my studies, but the different sides of my brain have to be working in tandem or at least get their share of airtime, or I am thrown incredibly and even dangerously off balance. That might sound hyperbolic, but sometimes making things keeps people alive. More than we will usually admit, I think. Embroidery came into my life at the right time, serendipitously. I am still learning how it works, and trying things out all the time, to various degrees of success, and while eventually I hope to create pieces that speak to many people, for now, it is almost enough that it saved my life.
“Making things keeps people alive.”
What are your thoughts on material culture? How can we, as a society, begin to embrace a change of mindset in our consumption? How does embroidery come into this i.e. the concept of mindfulness?
As someone who studies material culture, this question fascinates me. I think it can be very, very easy for us to dismiss people as materialistic or consumption-obsessed, and that can be classist beyond words. I love objects. I study material culture because I am interested in how people who may not have access to education or literacy make meaning out of their world through the things they own and make. To live “simply” along lines of aesthetic purity seems to me a way of perpetuating white supremacy—who, exactly, has the luxury of decluttering their lives and who can afford local and handmade objects? What is the difference between collecting and hoarding? When we wear or display an object made “mindfully” rather than in a factory, what are we signaling, and to whom?
I cannot get around the fact that handmade objects take time, and I cannot circumvent the connection between time and money. My embroidery pieces take ages. I will never, ever, ever get a proper return, monetarily, on each piece, because nearly no one is willing to spend that much on a small object. I can’t price them in a way that most people can afford, and that bums me out a lot. For now, it has to be enough that the slow time and mindfulness that I love so much about embroidery connects me to other people who recognize the value in that—mostly other embroidery and textile artists. My stitch-a-day project is very much about finding ten minutes to slow down a day, even if I get no other needlework in. I don’t support myself in any way through this endeavor, though nothing would make me happier than to be able to do so.
There is an embroidery design online that you shared on your Instagram designed by Hannah Hill that says “when you remember that historically, embroidery hasn’t been taken seriously because as a medium it’s ‘women’s work’. What is your response to this?
I’m so glad you asked this question, because I have tons to say about it, and her work in general.
I think Hill’s work brilliantly taps into pop cultural phenomena that speak across mediums—she is a generation younger than me, and I love watching her work tackle deep issues of race, gender, sexuality, and other identity categories via a form usually associated with nanas, spinsters, and sexually repressed women. I say this with a smile on my face—I could spend pages unpacking those associations, but Hannah does it every time she puts her needle on the fabric. She makes slow and careful work out of what are usually considered “fast” objects and subject matter—things used against women all the time, especially young women in her case, are given attention that most people couldn’t dream of sustaining. Embroidery is nothing if not slow.
Embroidery by Hannah Hill
It’s also a screen of sorts in its two-dimensionality, but it is so deeply tactile and sensory in felt, embodied ways, that to have a community of embroidery artists across the globe connecting via social media and the immaterial world of the internet is fascinating. We tell our stories through embroidery. This has always, always been the case.
Reproduction is such a loaded term. We can use it to refer to women’s capacity for birth and our supposed duty to reproduce biologically, we can talk about it in terms of labor and industrialization and the move away from locally made objects and products to mass production and consumption, and we can think about what the famous theorist Walter Benjamin described as the problem of the “work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction,” only now we might say, “the work of art in the age of digital reproduction.” Hill’s piece is digital and singular, both. It is one of a kind, and thus qualifies in traditional circles as a “work of art,” but it is a work that reproduces an endlessly self-referential, digital, image. That alone is more than enough food for thought, but she then introduces the question of “women’s work” – and the term “work” is important here, since it gestures to both craft and manual labor and is deliberately ambiguous, I think—and with great force challenges our historical categories as well as our contemporary ones around what it means when we make things, as women, especially. It reminds us to constantly question when and where our “reproductive” capacities are values, and where they are devalued, and everything in between!
“I would love to encourage people to be less afraid, if they can be, that they might make someone uncomfortable by standing up for what they believe in.”
In what ways do you wish to encourage people to see the actions that we can all take to be a part of the change we need in this world?
I think we need to be looking at who our community projects serve, and be extremely self-conscious and honest about it. I would love to encourage people to be less afraid, if they can be, that they might make someone uncomfortable by standing up for what they believe in. To check our privileges, wherever they may be, and to stop speaking for people we have no right to speak for, and to take stock on a daily basis of who and how we love and how we show it.