Francoise Dupre: Pattern, Feminism & Hope

Women's Library London, 2011

In 1892, the American author Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper”, a short story that questioned women’s expected occupations as mother and homemaker. Gilman’s character goes mad. Or perhaps she is the only one to see the madness of society and is on the fast track to sanity. It can be a bit hard to tell as her one companion during her forced sabbatical from ‘normal’ life is the wallpaper that surrounds her. Like Gilman, Françoise Dupré choses familiar materials – brightly coloured carrier bags, bottle tops, curtain wires and tights and – to construct a world of pattern that makes inside and outside difficult to differentiate. And like Gilman, Dupré asks pattern to say a lot.

Dupré is a cultural hybrid, mixing visual languages to create new combinations, and leading workshops that allow others to do the same. “As a French-born artist, based in London, I am more comfortable working in socially, and culturally ‘off-centred’ places and with so-called ‘marginalised’ communities,” she explains. “These are contexts where I feel I do not have to deal with my own sense of un-belonging because everyone is other.” Her strategy refuses – visually and symbolically – to rest. Instead she looks for hope where others have given up and refuses to conform to popular thinking that feminism is tired and pattern out of fashion.

In her new introduction to the second edition of The Subversive Stitch, penned last year, the late Rozsika Parker observed, “Today there is no longer a thriving political movement for women. I wrote the book under the impetus of Second Wave Feminism [ . . . ] Apparently we ‘dumped’ women’s domestic art skills.” Parker challenges this latter assertion and finds new versions of the feminist ideology thriving. Dupré, in her unashamedly feminist (in the most positive sense of the term) choice of audience and materials, is part of this renewed energy. She chooses techniques, such as spool knitting and appliqué for their visual impact and technical accessibility. Construction of her work is both individual and community-centred, introduced through workshops in locations as disparate as Milton Keynes, England and Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Dupré’s workshop participants are far removed from the Starbuck’s Knitting Club of stressed-professionals with ample leisure time. Instead she makes, and inspires others to make, bold patterns that bravely tackle the complexity of our identities today. As Gilman likely knew all along, the pattern was never a trap. It may contain hidden meanings, but here it celebrates survival, recovery and hope.

Dr Jessica Hemmings

Edinburgh College of Art, 2011