The similarities between the production of textiles (and craft at large) with the production of Wikipedia are uncanny! Weaver, writer and organizer Sara Clugage explores this in her work with Art + Feminism and we learned about their and others’ initiatives to edit craft’s representation on Wikipedia so as to more accurately reflect the stories and people that define craft during a three-part series entitled “Craft + Wikipedia Roundtables.”
When asked to reflect on the nature of textile production, most of us would likely point to the deep and proven value of making something by hand for both the maker, the object they’ve produced, and the person or community that ultimately uses that object. Additionally, the act of working in collaboration whether that be in a studio or fabrication space, community center, or online chat room contributes to the meaningful experience of being a textile worker or a textile user (aren’t we all? Of course we are.) Textile production might also be unglamorous at times: materials can be difficult or cumbersome to process or a large, shared workspace is most likely to get messy. The process often feels unfinished with the object or material’s lifetime marked by a series of mending and repurposing. It’s certainly monotonous, slow, repetitive…modular, iterative. The utilization of community and cultural knowledge and skill is essential. And while the basics of things like weaving, sewing, etc. might be fairly accessible to an unskilled practitioner, the opportunity for depth of skill that can only come from time, patience and practice is deep and vast.
By the way, this is all true of Wikipedia as well. Being the 5th most visited website made by more than 42 million user accounts (about 121k actively monthly on average) means that it is pervasive, impactful, common, and perhaps essential (?) It’s built by the users, it's constantly updated and its production and maintenance take time, work, and tactful skill. Wikipedia is written line by line, citation by citation — weft by weft.
Wikipedia entry for "Textile," September 1, 2021 (screenshot)
As Sara articulated this interesting comparison, she also pointed out that most of Wikipedia’s editors are white men from economically developed countries in the global north. But WE can access the tools to edit and update Wikipedia and that editing can make a significant impact on the way that information spreads. Wikipedia offers a platform for folks across all sorts of spectrums in gender, age, access, race, region, religion, education, language, creed, etc. to contribute factual information and secondary sources to round out our understandings of history, right from their own devices.
This is true for history at large - and so much of the history in our "history books" is inaccurate, false, manipulated, or altered - but our focus here is on craft and the roundtable hosted by Art +Feminism was attended by artists, writers, librarians, community organizers, educators, museum collection managers, crafters (textile, ceramic, glass, etc.) all ready to work together to update “craft” on Wikipedia despite their varied background in doing so.
The work that Sara and Art + Feminism is doing around Craft + Wikipedia is in tandem (and solidarity) with efforts by groups like AfroCROWD, Black Lunch Table, Wikimedia LGBT+ User Group, and Women In Red. In researching for and producing Woman Interwoven, we have also worked closely with groups like the Craft Atlas, BOWB, The New Historia, and other Wikimedia and GLAM groups dedicated to accuracy and preservation in cultural heritage. But we can also look to inspiration and motivation from the craft artists themselves. Sara pointed out that in her prolific book “On Weaving,” Anni Albers articulates that materials in our modern era are defined by their processing and that the average person is no longer in touch with the ways the things they consume are produced. So what is lost when we are no longer a part of the creation of the materials we use, need, and define ourselves by?
Perhaps we can apply this thinking to the ways that we consume news also…short headlines on social media, unaccredited, unaccountable “sources” consumed blindly by the public. We still have the power, the community, and the platforms to “make” it ourselves.
Zine-making workshop led by Ritu Ghiya and Neta Boman at the 2019 Art+Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo by Manuel Molina Martagon, via Wikimedia Commons.
Check out the Art+Feminism page for additional details and resources including instructions on how to edit and update the representation of craft on Wikipedia. And reach out to us if you want to join a group that's working collaboratively towards this effort.