They are self-inflicted, the lines of thread embroidered into Bennett’s palm. You might gawk, or be repulsed – but it is a narrative for artist Eliza Bennett. Embroidery is commonly associated with stereotypical, old-fashioned femininity. Her stitched palm – with colored lines, create a distortion of bruises and battering that reflects the perception of a lived experience. It showcases the effects of labor intensive work, challenging the pre-conceived notion that a ‘woman’s work’ is light and easy.
HM: As a child I remember using my grandmother’s thread and needle to stitch over my skin as well. For what reason I don’t recall – but, I was clearly fascinated by it. When I stumbled across your work, I had a very violent yet nostalgic reaction to it.
Did you have any apprehensions to sharing this project with others? I’m imagining that the initial reactions would be that this is a form of self-mutilation disguising itself as art.
EB: A fellow former skin stitcher!
Interesting first question; particularly as I am not sure whether you are male or female. I rather like it that way, there’s no danger of me focusing my responses with that in mind. I am aware that often my intention for the piece is overlooked, that of applying a ‘feminine’ technique to create a work worn unsettling piece, and it appears to have been received by some as a form of egocentric self-harm. This troubles me, as much as it makes me laugh. Re: self-harm.
I wonder why when we modify ourselves to fit an idea of accepted beauty it is ok, but such strong reactions abound when a modification that is outside of accepted norms occurs. Why do people feel the need to validate their reactions by making assumptions, rather than questioning why they are reacting that way? I was pretty dogmatic about certain things when I was younger. At some point I began to listen to opinions that didn’t only validate my own.
HM: Someone pointed out in the comments of your last interview that most of the male responses to your work were negative and female responses are positive. I thought that was interesting because while it’s easier for women to relate with other woman, I typically find that women are more critical of their own sex. Why do think the men had a more volatile reaction?
EB: I am uncomfortable making gender based generalizations, and have personally received mixed responses from both sexes. So I’m not convinced that that’s necessarily a correct observation. I think the responses are less gender specific and more personal to the individual. Some viewers mistake the piece for a feminist protest, but I don’t think of it like that. It’s about human value. After all, there are many men employed in caring, catering, cleaning etc. all jobs traditionally considered to be women’s work. Such work is invisible in the larger society, with ‘A woman’s work…’ I aim to represent it.