I use textile crafts to explore masculinity’s conflicting messages, and I typically use the cross-stitch ABC sampler form to document how I’ve been educated to be a man in US society. (Years ago embroidery was part of a girl’s educational process, and during times when girls were not afforded a formal education, girls actually learned the ABCs by stitching them onto cloth. These embroidery samplers demonstrated a girl’s skill and the fact that she was of the leisure class, among other things.)
In my latest series of cross-stitch samplers, I recall actual experiences when I exhibited risky behavior, and I document a violent parallel history in which I was not so lucky. Additionally, I am exploring my work history.
Bren Ahearn: Growing up as the son of a craft-loving English teacher, I spent many hours pursuing crafts and playing Scrabble. As I grew older, I believed that in order to fit in with my peers, I had to be in the closet about my crafting, eventually stopping my creative activities altogether. My Scrabble playing, however, continued and turned into a life-long love of the study of language intersecting with my current art practice.
In 1996, I signed up for a textiles class, thereby reawakening my dormant artistic side. I am attracted to textiles because textiles are like language – both are subtle, yet powerful. Also, both can protect, expose, reveal social position, and show affiliation. I later learned that the words textile and text are derived from the same root, and several of my earlier pieces are focused on this text-textile connection.
My focus has since expanded beyond this literal connection to the multi-layered texts or readings of the cloth. Recent themes that have emerged are the socialization of American men to be violent and conflicting views on sexuality/masculinity. My hope is that upon reading my work, viewers will engage in a dialogue about the confining nature of behavioral norms.