Lisa Anne Auerbach is an American textile artist, Zine writer, and photographer best known for her knitted works with blunt political commentary. Although her slogans and signs may be frank, they convey political opinion without accusing a specific group of people for current social conditions (1).

Auerbach received an M.F.A. in photography from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, but after graduating she no longer had access to the school’s darkroom, so she taught herself to knit instead. “Knitting was a way I could continue to make art,” she says. “It’s portable and I can do it anywhere. Now that I’m teaching photography at Pomona College, I knit on the train during my commute, and it’s a great way to pass the time in faculty meetings,” (15). Her choice of medium, yarn, is prefered due to its ability not only to integrate the words with the art, but also to become a part of it. Rather than simply putting words on an existing t-shirt, knitting them into the sweaters interweaves the words into the sweater’s structure and its core meaning (2). The text, often making reference to a chosen time period, relates the work to specific events. “I’m interested in the way time changes their meaning,” Auerbach says, “how fabric can outlast sentiment,” (3). Auerbach’s knitting, which began as putting common slogans onto woolen jumpers, developed into sweaters, dresses, skirts and scarves as a wearable, contemporary form of artwork. "I guess it is true that my grandmother's mother was a tailor, and my mom quilted, and there are other tailors in the old country," she says. "So maybe that shows up in the work in some way. It is possible that part of the reason I work in textiles is because my mother worked in textiles, and I have all these family connections to textiles," (4). However, Auerbach’s main purpose of her knits is not to celebrate high-culture feminism. Her works were originally inspired by custom-made sweaters worn by celebrities such as Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielson, which combined a, “Mr. Rogers vibe with offhand messages like ‘Don’t steal my girlfriend.’” By basing her knits off of this idea, she turned what is usually identified as “women’s work” to openly question socio-political morals (16). Using a digital track pad connected to a computer that controls a knitting machine, Auerbach hand-draws the sketches and statements for her works (15). Unlike the confrontational quality of political T-shirts, her sweaters’ bright colors and bold patterns are, “subversively charming,” (5). As far as putting slogans on clothing at all, Auerbach adds, “I might knit a statement that only rings true for one day or one hour, but the existence of it extends far beyond this short window,” (2). The appeal to her pieces is because they are niether temporary nor disposable, and are clear in their deliberate aim for attention (16).

‘Chosen People Choose Obama,’ 2008.

external image 4uSoSAtCkcPj4AQ-meddQqR8qFCFJWWkO91Vj2CX8NcmsGO8XeUgSiIn_q1iilYiVXs_EtyGv54mosPlFQJQw6g-GAUzYnwQPg4Idb_0gkHavpesw3daiyNebpNACr8kPyt0C_CQ Auerbach’s political themes often extend to content of elections. Her “chosen people” sweater claims that, “chosen people choose Obama,” in support of 2008 presidential candidate Barack Obama. Although Auerbach considers herself an atheist, her mother’s Jewish beliefs translate into her sweater’s theme of identity, nonetheless. Auerbach describes how her father’s “Jewish ambition” mirrored her desire to pursue a career in art. Her grandfather, an immigrant, was a dedicated worker, able to provide for his family so that his sons could become doctors and lawyers, who, in turn, worked so that their daughters could become artists. Auerbach was fascinated with, “this idea of a lineage that you work for your kids towards this ultimate freedom of being an artist.” For Auerbach, her sweaters are not only a representation of her own beliefs and values, but of others’ as well (4).

‘Do Ask, Do Tell,’ 2010.

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In 1981, the US Department of Defense’s policy stated that homosexuality rendered participants unfit for military service. This idea lead to the discharge of 20.2% of white females, with the entire white female population consisted of only 6.4% of military personnel in the first place. Met by great resistance, by the late 1980s several gay and lesbian Armed Forces, members came out publicly to challenge their discharge, and many colleges and universities cut their military recruitment and Reserve Officers Training Corps programs in protest of the policy (6).

Legislation to repeal the ban was proposed to Congress in 1992, and became highly probable by 1993. President Clinton, though met with opposition by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, members of Congress, and a considerable population of the U.S. public, proposed to implement a new policy to end sexual discrimination in the military (6).

‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue,’ passed in 1993 under president Bill Clinton as a compromise with Senator Sam Nunn, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Under its terms, military personnel would not be asked about their sexual orientation and would not be discharged for their sexual orientation, although engaging in sexual conduct with a member of the same sex would still be grounds for discharge (6). In this sense, the ban against homosexuals remained. A person could be gay as long as he or she did not act like it, a practice that continued the discriminatory outlook. Although recruits would not be required to answer questions against their orientation, commanding officers could investigate soldiers, given "credible evidence" of homosexual conduct (7).

Although the policy is a step towards equal rights for gay servicemen and women, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and other organizations monitoring “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”’s implementation analyzed its failures. Discharges increased under the policy and harassment of gay and lesbian personnel appeared to intensify in many military bases (6).

While candidates for the Republican nomination in 2000 reaffirmed their support for the policy or stated their aim for complete prohibition of military service by homosexuals, President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, and First Lady Hillary Clinton declared the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy a failure. 2000 presidential candidates Al Gore and Bill Bradley each promised to reverse the discriminatory policy if elected (6).

The repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” took effect on September 12, 2011 (8). With gay and lesbian service members legally allowed to be open about their orientation for the first time in history, the White House brought an end to the policy that undermined our nation’s security and established grounds of anxiety and isolation for those military personnel who had to sacrifice their integrity as well as their lives (9). In the words of former president Barack Obama, “It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed,” (10).

Lisa Anne Auerbach’s knitted scarf, “Do Ask, Do Tell,” with its reference to previous military policies, not only accepts, but encourages conversation about sexual orientation. It normalizes the discussion of such topics and establishes a sense of safety without confrontation.
Auerbach tells about the purpose behind the piece, “An antidote to ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ is ‘Do Ask Do Tell.’ Counter secrecy with openness. Collapse discord through discussion. Ask a lot of questions. Talk back. Bring a voice into the conversation, change a mind or have yours changed. Do Ask Do Tell!” Auerbach’s extroverted view on self-expression and personal freedom is clear in her works. She adds, “To quarantine one aspect of identity through silence is ridiculous,” (3).

‘We Are All Pussy Riot,’ 2014.

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The Whitney Biennial is the longest running survey of contemporary art in the United States, exhibiting the most promising and influential artists and provoking debate between participants and artists alike. From rookies to the accomplished, the Whitney Biennial shows works in painting, sculpture, drawing, installation, film and video, photography, activism, performance, music, and video game design, with special focus on the individual’s place in society

One of the works shown in the 2014 Whitney Biennial was Auerbach’s sweater, with the text, “WE ARE ALL PUSSY RIOT.” The highlight of the show’s textile works, Auerbach’s wool knits, “at once confront sexism, politics and traditional conceptions of femininity.” Made of pink, light blue, yellow, and grey wool, the piece, which emphasizes the presence of sexual
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discrimination in society today, brings light to the situation by establishing a sense of uniformity and support with the collective, “we,” while, “riot” gives the text edge and an uncompromising attitude (12).

One of the works shown in the 2014 Whitney Biennial was Auerbach’s sweater, with the text, “WE ARE ALL PUSSY RIOT.” The highlight of the show’s textile works, Auerbach’s wool knits, “at
once confront sexism, politics and traditional conceptions of femininity.” Made of pink, light blue, yellow, and grey wool, the piece, which emphasizes the presence of sexual discrimination in society today, brings light to the situation by establishing a sense of uniformity and support with the collective, “we,” while, “riot” gives the text edge and an uncompromising attitude (12).

Afghan Carpet Project, 2015.

external image BqtqJjzEVYkZBOFYQBI4gl-Tpbbe_SHM1fhqNO9LtXWM3lH8SAWyPMPeV_zk37Ri-GNAxJHacm6t_goPwM9LPkQA1tGHucsiyBWQ7twbdW062FmkxTuSD8hxwELnTcm6Evbk33bmThe Afghan Carpet Project was an undertaking of six carpets designed by L.A.-based contemporary artists Lisa Anne Auerbach, Liz Craft, Meg Cranston, Francesca Gabbiani, Jennifer Guidi, and Toba Khedoori, that were handmade by weavers in Afghanistan. The project, which ran from June 13, 2015 to September 27, 2015, was inspired by a trip to Afghanistan to visit weavers in Kabul and Bamiyan in March of 2014. Following the trip the artists came up with original designs for their carpets that reflected the experiences they had in Afghanistan. While some designs came from the artists’ respective practices, other’s drew upon what they learned in Afghanistan about the traditions of carpet weaving and the production process, as well as the living and working conditions for the weavers (14).

Initiated by the nonprofit organization AfghanMade and carpet producer Christopher Farr, Inc., the project’s aim was a collaboration with women weavers in Afghanistan. Additionally, the profits from carpet sales benefited Arzu Studio Hope, an organization that established weaving studios in Afghanistan, providing fair wages, education, and health care to Afghan women (14).

Works Cited

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