Social Impact Arts Prize

This week we look at Craft’s deep roots in local communities, and how, in the digital age, it has even more to offer.


Crafting the Future

A paradoxical benefit of the digital age is the rise of an appreciation of crafted and handmade objects. Craft is not only art in the ‘eye of the beholder’, but craft captures the art making processes, making visible the human touch – a quality the digital world cannot compete with.

Non-hierarchical craft practices have immense potential; while it has the capacity to recycle waste or turn cheap, locally available and organic materials into useful products, they also invite basic skills into the making processes, responding directly to historical and cultural contexts. Whether creating richly decorated artefacts for ritual or the household, in keeping with traditions passed through communities, the symbolism and spiritual dimension is revered. Craftsmen and makers are respected figureheads in many communities, often anonymous. Fortunately, some of these craftmasters’ work is being collected and preserved.

A global resurgence in craft, sees the emergence of artists such as Fernando Laposse, whose work is preoccupied with sustainability, the loss of biodiversity, community disenfranchisement and the politics of food, in his native Mexico. Laposse has created a new material Totomoxtle made from corn husks, that he uses as stunning veneers on furniture – yet it is something far greater than just a beautiful thing.

At the heart of Laposse’s project is the idea of regenerating traditional agricultural techniques, and a transfer of skills to train the impoverished farmers who grow the heirloom species of corn. By supporting plant species diversity, and the people whose livelihoods depend on it, these crafts using Totomoxtle to connect meaningfully with the historical and cultural context from where they originate.

Read More on Fernando Laposse:

Read More on South Africa’s Craft Tradition:

African ceramics and textiles, alongside traditional art forms producing woven baskets or wire sculptures, have long been part of the lifeblood of many communities. These artistic skills are slowly being lost, even if they are a valued source of income for some communities, as they can’t yet compete with the commercially valued art forms of the commercial art world. How can we identify, develop and grow the potential embedded in these centuries-old practices?

#Assemblage Art

‘Assemblage Art’ is one of the powerful contemporary art practices which was developed in the 20th Century. It is a simple technique which involves creating art from everyday objects, reconfigured to powerful artistic effect. It remains a powerful technique liberating us from the artworld’s constricting conventions.

“Assemblage [art] is about using recycled materials, found objects from the past. Just by recycling objects, her work is suggesting we haven’t gotten over these histories.”

The assemblage work of Betye Saar, the artist whose work is credited with starting the black women’s movement in the US, has been receiving a lot of institutional attention lately. Her use of assemblage art is political, often featuring historically loaded items such as a traditional washboard - a symbol of domestic servitude and slavery. Saar also uses letters, fragments of fabric, dolls - a way of reclaiming imagery - and creating new narratives. As Wendy NE Ikemoto curator of Betye Saar’s 2018 exhibition at MOMA puts it:

Betye Saar, I’ll Bend But I Will Not Break, 1998. Mixed media tableau: vintage ironing board, flat iron, metal chin, white bed sheet, six wooden clothespins, cotton, clothesline and one rope hook, 80 x 96 x 36 in (203.2 x 243.8 x 91.4 cm), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of Lynda and Stewart Resnick through the 2018 Collectors Committee, © Betye Saar

Read More on Betye Saar

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