by Maisie Dyson
I’ve been told many times that swearing is ‘unladylike.’ Frankly, I don’t give a shit. Neither, apparently, do the members of the Profanity Embroidery Group, in Whitstable. I first heard about the group on the Channel 4 documentary Kathy Burke’s All Women, which explored what exactly it means to be a woman in 2019. The Profanity Embroidery Group (or PEG for short), founded in 2014, are a group of women (and two men!) who meet twice a month down the pub to stitch swear words onto quilts.
There is a real dissonance between the handstitched, devoted attention paid to the craft of the work, and the raw fucking power of the words stitched onto it. It expresses rage, freedom, and a don’t-care attitude. The ironic juxtaposition of the two elements, creates a dichotomy that’s both humorous and confronting.
Embroidery and textiles work are “traditionally assigned to the world of women,” (Brown, 2006). Like the work of the feminist artists of the 1970’s and 80’s, PEG’s work reads like a reclamation of this ‘women’s work’, manifesting embroidery in a way that suits the needs of the contemporary “sweary women” of today. There is underlying glee in the work – a sense of decompression or catharsis – that we all experience when we’re doing something society deems a little bit naughty.
I can’t help thinking that works by PEG are reminiscent of Tracey Emin’s blanket and fabric works of the 1990’s. Emin’s text-based artworks, using old blankets and “salvaged” cloth, use a similar technicolour palette and an abundance swear words (Brown, 2006). According to The White Cube, “Emin’s work has an immediacy and often sexually provocative attitude that firmly locates her oeuvre within the tradition of feminist discourse.” Though Emin somewhat attempted to distance herself from the feminist artwork that came before hers, the connotations of her blanket work (blankets and quilts representing, among other things, the domestic, the bed, the marital bed) can’t escape such a reading.
Emin and PEG are united in their exploration of rage, womanhood, sex, sexuality, illness, stress and grief. Emin’s work is an exploration of the deeply personal narrative and the internal life – with reflections on her childhood, her school years, and sexual assault. Works by PEG are made either individually or the work of individuals is sutured together to form one quilt. Although PEG is not a support group, Burke in her documentary approaches PEG with questions about whether or not friendships are the most important relationships in our lives. There is no denying the community aspect of their group but it’s through the therapeutic nature of sewing they have conquered grief, loss, and a whole manner of life’s really shit bits.
PEG shows us what happens when we get together and create, and how art and swearing can relieve stress. It shows us what happens when we don’t give a fuck in the best way possible. And I think that’s bloody brilliant.
Their completed quilts, Quilt of Profanity (2016) and The Fucking Quilt (2018) have been displayed in Fishslab Gallery, Whitstable. For more information about works and exhibitions, visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/profanityembroiderygroup/
Photo: credited to Profanity Embroidery Group, Whitstable. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profanityembroiderygroup/photos
Brown, Neal. TE: Tracey Emin (London: Tate Publishing) 2006.
Kathy Burke’s All Women Documentary, Channel 4, first aired 13 August 2019. https://www.channel4.com/programmes/kathy-burkes-all-woman/on-demand/68015-001
White Cube Gallery, Artists, Tracey Emin: https://whitecube.com/artists/artist/tracey_emin