Eliza Bennett is a London-based textile artist whose project “A Woman’s Work Is Never Done” explored the physical demands of women employed in the garment industry. By embroidering under her own skin she creates a very visceral expression of the effects of intensive labour.
“For my piece ‘A woman’s work is never done’ I used my own hand as a base material, upon which I stitched into the top layer of skin using thread to create the appearance of an incredibly work worn hand. By using the technique of embroidery, traditionally employed to represent femininity and applying it to the expression of it’s opposite, I aim to challenge the notion that ‘women’s work’ is light and easy.
“Some viewers consider the piece to be a feminist protest, but I don’t think of it like that. For me 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.
“The technique, I recall first applying to my hand under a table during a home economics class in school. I was totally amazed to find that you could pass a needle under the top layers of skin without any pain, only a mild discomfort. As with many childhood whims, it passed and I hadn’t thought any more of it until quite recently, when I decided to apply it to my hand to make it look calloused and work worn, like that of a manual labourer. I have worked both as a carer and as a costume maker and am appalled at the disparity between job status, workload and rates of pay. And that is based on my own experience working in a ‘democratic’ western country… never mind the rest. However when discussing politics I tend to feel as though I’m biting my tail, so I try to stick with the artistic impulse to best express what I mean.”
Hand embroidery in every sense of the word, Eliza’s work provokes strong reactions in everyone who sees it. Eliza told me that people are misinterpreting her work as being “a form of egocentric self harm” and although it’s easy to see how that conclusion is reached, I find the expression of her work to be far more politic than that. For the thousands of people who have worked their fingers to the bone, this work is a visceral expression of endurance and the sincerity of their toils.
Modernity has done a fantastic job of whitewashing the human experience at the extremes of the production process; the desire for the best things at the lowest prices is underwritten by the sacrifice of human rights and intolerable working conditions in many developing countries. It’s an unsustainable and inhumane model that the world is becoming increasingly reliant on and I sincerely hope we can reverse this trend before it’s too late.
Eliza’s work is a fantastic illustration of the overlooked humanity in these systems and I can only encourage you to share it and enlighten people. Visit Eliza’s website for more information.
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