Jen Graham
Embracing the history of the sewing arts as a form of storytelling, recording family history, and sometimes even propaganda, my work uses traditional embroidery and patchwork techniques to both reinvestigate American history and discuss current political and social issues. My three main series are titled At War With Ourselves, My Presidents, and Loudmouths.

With the series At War With Ourselves, I use the American Civil War as a platform to discuss the polarities of contemporary politics. I believe that, in many ways, we are still politically and ideologically fighting the Civil War. The battles over tradition vs. progress, state vs. federal power, big vs. small government, and the struggle for equality and civil rights provoked the Civil War, but they are ongoing today. In this work, I take historical photographs and illustrations from the Civil War and late 19th century America and use them to create patchwork embroidery. The sewn historical images are paired with embroidered text either written by myself or derived from historical and contemporary sources, including Civil War era journals, quotes from political figures, and slogans from both the Democratic and Republican parties’ websites. Using techniques from American folk art traditions and early 20th century propaganda posters, I place images alongside text to encourage the viewer to reconsider the motives, meanings, and power of these messages and to question how far we have really come as a nation since the 1860s.

The series, My Presidents, focuses exclusively on the presidents of the United States, intending to uncover forgotten biographies and dismantle myths with hope of coming to a greater understanding of our current political and social state as a nation. I am interested in the legacies of these men. Not necessarily what they are most commonly known for, but what I found to be truly fundamental about their presidencies, how their personalities shaped our country, and what kind of a people they were as president. My Presidents consists of a hand-embroidered portrait of every past president of the United States of America. After extensive research, I have given each president a nickname that I feel more accurately describes them -- as a president and a man -- than those nicknames which history has already bestowed upon them. This nickname accompanies their sewn portrait, using my voice and a traditionally women’s medium to re-tell the history of men in power in the United States. These are not classical oil paintings of our country’s leaders, but folk-influenced portraits of men who become humanized through the tradition of embroidery, hopefully providing a better understanding of their experiences as presidents.

The Loudmouths series is, by contrast, focused entirely on contemporary American culture, specifically American media. The 24 hour news cycle combined with the unfiltered pool of information on the internet has created a disturbingly inaccurate never-ending flood of misinformation. The media figures that get the majority of the attention are the most outlandish, loud, and often hateful. These figures skew facts, overdramatize events, instill unnecessary fear, and generally misinform the public, relying on shock value to stay in the limelight. With this series, I have created larger than life embroidered portraits of some of the media figures that I find to be instilling the most damage on contemporary American culture. With contrasting bright colors, each portrait depicts a media figure grotesquely vomiting, intended to serve as a visual depiction of their constant stream of chatter that has flooded American media outlets.