Barb Hunt, Antipersonnel 1998-ongoing. Cotton, polyester, and wool knitted sculptures. 50 sculptures in total; sizes varying from 6 x 7 x 9 cm to 36 x 9 x 12 cm. The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery Collection.

Barb Hunt, We grow up learning that someone is always looking at us and checking for misbehaviour— Laurie Penny, 2016. Found vintage apron, embroidery thread, 70 x 60 cm.

Barb Hunt, I regularly fuck it up—Roxane Gay, 2016. Found vintage apron, embroidery thread, 85 x 60 cm.

Barb Hunt, Why on earth have I, because I’m a woman, got to be nice to everyone— Caitlin Moran, 2016. Found vintage apron, embroidery thread, 65 x 60 cm.

Textiles give living rooms their coziness. Curtains line windows and keep out the cold while embracing the sun; carpets and rugs take the chill out of cold floors; throw blankets and handmade cushion covers give us comfort; table clothes and doilies soften the hard surfaces of tables and sideboards. While textile artist Barb Hunt is an expert at wielding the needle, she does not craft quaint ornaments or conventional garments. Barb lived in Corner Brook in Newfoundland for almost two decades before recently moving to Vancouver Island. She cites Newfoundland’s prevalent craft culture as a major influence on her practice; the long family traditions of hand-made textiles including hooked rugs, quilts, socks and other garments, and even fish nets made by hand. Barb’s textile practice explores the history of European and North American settler women’s domestic needlework traditions, honouring the creativity and skill required by these practices, while also commenting on the gendered association of domestic textiles as axiomatic with femininity. Much of her work carries a strong feminist message that challenges the social and cultural misogyny that devalues women’s labour in the home and overlooks the skilled and specialized creative production that is often defined as trivial hobby craft.

Works from two separate series by Barb are included in the Living Room: Antipersonnel and Aprons. Antipersonnel is a collection of to-scale replicas of anti-personnel land mines crocheted and knitted out of yarn in various shades of pink, which are showcased in a wooden display cabinet against the wall. These intricate and delicate objects reference the body and embodiment, both through the pink colour that alludes to the fragile interior of the fleshy body, as well as the knit material, which has strong associations with the bandages, dressings, socks, and other insulating garments made by women for use by male soldiers. Each of the mines that Barb has reproduced was created in astounding detail; the cannisters and casings, which vary in size, are intricately knit, and if you look closely, you can see crocheted pull fuses and fuse tubes, pressure caps and plates, busting, prongs, safety pins and pulls, plungers, and firing rings. Inspired by Canada’s initiation of the international Mine Ban Treaty in 1997 – which, to date, has been signed by 164 countries – this work is a material protest against the use of anti-personnel land mines, which cause gruesome and painful disfigurement and catastrophic fatal injury. “Knitting represents care, protection, and healing,” Barb notes. “I use these associations to contradict the abuse of power and the use of violence by transforming a destructive object into one that can do no harm.”

Three of Barb’s brightly coloured homemade aprons are pinned to the wall by the Living Room’s doorway. Since the 1970s, Barb has been collecting vintage “hostess” aprons, and has embroidered powerful quotes by feminist women on some of them. Like a name tag, the author’s name is embroidered onto a piece of cloth tape on the inside of the waistband of the apron. For this project, Barb has selected aprons that are especially feminine with intricate designs, fancy trims, and eye-catching patterns on delicate fabrics. These sexy aprons fascinated Barb because of the juxtaposition between their original use as a utilitarian garment designed to keep the wearer clean and safe, and the fetishistic nature of these useless “hostess” aprons with their sheer gauzy materials and extravagant decoration worn strictly for ornamentation. Against this tense foundation, the feminist sayings that Barb has embroidered onto the aprons feel especially pointed. On a white chiffon apron with two pockets in the shape of juicy red and pink petaled roses, Barb has stitched a quote by Laurie Penny: “We grow up learning that someone is always looking at us and checking for misbehaviour.” Barb describes her choice: “The quotation is embroidered in dark pink thread, to compliment the roses, and the words march evenly across the bottom of the apron, as if they are being obedient to some invisible force. I chose an old-fashioned serif font for the quotation because to me, a serif font feels authoritative. And the spacing between the letters is very narrow, so it feels like the text is being squished into a tight space, exactly how I feel about the narrowness of the roles prescribed for women.” Another apron, bright yellow with appliqued tulips dancing across the front, bears a declaration from Roxanne Gay: “I regularly fuck it up.” Here, the message is a reminder that it’s impossible for women to live up to the unattainable standards of idealized femininity, that no one is perfect, and that it’s okay to make mistakes. “In this series,” Barb explains, “I play with the contrast between the attractive, docile appearance of the apron and the power of telling one’s truth.”

– JH