HerStory March 2019: Ava DuVernay

Each month this year, we are exploring a different artistic avenue, and for March, we’re heading into the movie theater to spend a bit of time with A va DuVernay. She’s an American director, producer, and screenwriter, best known for 2018’s A Wrinkle in Time. Like many HerStory recipients, Ava DuVernay has a big stack of “firsts” to her name: the first black woman to win the directing award at the Sundance Film Festival (for Middle of Nowhere); the first black female director to have a film nominated for a Golden Globe (for Selma); the first black female director to have a film nominated for an Oscar (again, for Selma); the first black female director to be nominated for an Academy Award for a feature (13th); and the first black female director to direct a live-action film with a budget of over $100 million (for A Wrinkle in Time).

Although our March colorway, Tesseract, celebrates DuVernay’s work on A Wrinkle in Time, it is her life’s work calling out racism and centering the black and female experience in America that secured her place in HerStory. Her work has even inspired what’s known as the “DuVernay test,” which is the race equivalent of the Bechdel test. (The Bechdel test is a way to look at women’s roles in films: are there solely to support the main male characters, or are they are fully-formed characters in their own right?). In 2016, New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis coined the phrase the DuVernay Test, asking whether “African-Americans and other minorities have fully realized lives rather than serve as scenery in white stories.” It is in service to the DuVernay test that we celebrate A Wrinkle in Time for what it has done for characters of color in big film productions. Meg, the main character of the film, is a mixed-race child, and the fact that she is black is just that, a fact. Her blackness is not the central focus of the story; she’s the main character who happens to be black. 

Representation matters, and DuVernay is working every day to help ensure that representation happens. In 2010 DuVernay founded an organization called African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM), whose focus was to distribute films made by or focusing on black people. The driving force of her work in this organization is activism. In 2015, the company rebranded itself, and is now ARRAY, bringing into its work the elevation of women filmmakers as well. She has a podcast, The Call-In, centering and showcasing black and female filmmakers.  Last year, she launched the Evolve Entertainment Fund, whose mission is to promote inclusion and provide an opportunity for under-served communities to pursue a dream in the entertainment industry. 

She also continues to create her own projects exploring race. Her 2016 Netflix documentary, 13th, explores the intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the US. The film’s title refers to the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which freed the slaves and prohibited slavery, with the exception of slavery as punishment for a crime. The film has won both critical and popular acclaim, and won an Emmy for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special in 2017. 

Ava DuVernay is a force to be reckoned with, and a still-rising star to keep your eyes on. The aesthetic beauty of A Wrinkle in Time was breathtaking, and her commitment to helping other black women rise in the entertainment field is inspiring. We hope you watch one of her films as you knit away on your Tesseract project, although, if you see the air shimmering slightly ahead of you, think twice before bounding into an alternate universe, ok? Unless, of course, the Mrs’ Who, Whatsit, and Which are there with you.

HerStory February 2019: Teresita Fernandez

 We still have the music of January’s HerStory recipient, Beyoncé, accompanying our knitting (and life) as we head into February with visual artist Teresita Fernández. Teresita Fernández is an American-born sculptor known for large-scale installations that challenge the way we think about and perceive our surroundings. She was appointed by President Obama in 2011 to serve on the US Commission of Fine Arts, and is the first Latina to ever serve on the commission, and only the second person of Latino heritage to ever serve on the commission (her precursor served in the early 1970s). Her art explores the paradox of using easily-found and sometimes-disparate physical objects to represent formless elements: silk thread, stretched and suspended, to represent fire (in 2005′ Fire), or tens of thousands of hand-made mirrored glass cubes to reflect and represent the landscape of a dramatic Japanese inland sea (in 2009’s Blind Blue Landscape), for example. 

She also forces the viewer to see things in alternative ways; in 2015’s Fata Morgana, in New York City’s Madison Square Park, she created a massive outdoor sculpture, which consisted of installing a five-hundred-foot canopy of mirrors. As people walked the paths, they were forced to see the park they were strolling through as a “ghost-like, sculptural, luminous mirage that distorts the landscape and becomes a reflective portrait of urban activity.” (https://www.madisonsquarepark.org/view-do/calendar/mad-sq-art-teresita-fernandez)

Fernández’s 2012 installation, Night Writing, at gallery Lehmann Maupin in NYC (https://dailyartfair.com/exhibition/1199/teresita-fernandez-lehmann-maupin) is the inspiration for this month’s Preconceived Notion colorway. The installation is a bold vision in pinks, blacks, and greys. It’s constructed of a series of large works on paper, representing the very human impulse to look up to the night sky for information, guidance, navigation, and time-keeping, and how and why we interpret what we see. Fernández used Night Writing, the precursor to modern-day Braille, to translate text that became a constellation pattern of perforated holes backed by mirrors – making the work a dynamic, reflective surface. 

We hope you enjoy spending a bit of time being inspired by Teresita Fernández’s view of the world, and we hope you are able, through the knitting of this skein, to experience a bit of the turning-on-its-head of your usual preconceived notions that she would surely want you to feel. Maybe pair this skein with an acid green, or a bright yellow. A deep blue or a blood-red. Or knit up some socks that take you on a journey, like Skew or Sidewinders. Or just knit something mindless while you stroll through an exhibition of Teresita Fernández’s work. 

HerStory January 2019: Beyonce

Welcome to HerStory 2019! This year, we are focusing on artists of all stripes from all over the world. Our line-up is absolutely amazing, full of inspiring women, ass-kicking empowerment, and the most transcendent art you’ve experienced in many different mediums. We’re honoring women who create art in all kinds of ways, and our first artist is one the inspires the fearless leader of Knitted Wit daily, singer/visual artist/dancer/producer/everything, Beyoncé. She’s one of the few people in history who need only one name.

Why is Beyoncé our first HerStory recipient of 2019? Oh, let us count the ways: she is unapologetically herself, a black woman in the United States today. She tells the story of the struggle, and celebrates her culture in a way that is empowering and uplifting. Her recent work is all about telling stories of and for the women who have been left out of so many conversations, those who haven’t had a seat at the table. She uses her art to broaden feminism and center blackness in a time in which we are seeing more in-your-face racism and misogyny than we have seen in a long time.

Beyoncé’s public persona has taken on almost-mythic proportions, striking even in a society that lives to mythologize its celebrities. And she has taken full advantage of that mythologizing, using her celebrity to elevate the black voice, to celebrate black womanhood, and to refuse to allow even those who have put her on that pedestal to write her narrative. In short, Beyoncé is everything we need in today’s society, plus her music is catchy as hell.

Our Beyoncé-inspired colorway, Goddess, takes both its color inspiration and its name from Beyoncé’s centering of black feminism, black beauty, and black motherhood. The gold in the skein is directly inspired by her 2017 Grammy performance, in which an unapologetically pregnant Queen Bey paid homage to multiple goddesses who signify womanhood and fertility, from the African water spirit Mami Wata to Yoruba water goddess Oshun to Hindu goddess Kali. All three of these deities embody feminity, sexuality, and fertility, and Beyoncé channeled every single one in her performance. If you haven’t watched that performance, we strongly suggest you do so, and quickly. The other end of the skein is inspired by the stunning floral arrangements that surrounded her in the pregnancy and birth announcements she shared on Instagram in 2017. We are constantly struck by how much meaning she injects into everything she does, and these images were no different: in both her pregnancy and birth announcements, she mashed the Madonna/Venus archetypes together into her own beautiful interpretation. She deconstructed the Madonna/whore complex, enthusiastically stating that, in her and in all women, both and neither can be and are true at the same time, and womanhood and motherhood and sexuality are all a part of who and what she is.

Whew! We are inspired to listen even more closely to Queen Bey’s music and spend some time watching her visual works, to suss out even more of the meaning she infuses into everything she does. All while knitting socks out of Goddess, of course. How about you? Are you feeling as inspired as we are? Show us! Remember to share your projects on Instagram, by tag @knittedwit, and use hashtags #knittedwit and #herstory2019kal. On Facebook, join the Knitted Wit Knitalongs Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/knittedwitkal), to be inspired by what your co-HerStory knitters have made, and inspire all of us with your creations.