The Punk Rakusu (Part 2)
How art can be practice and practice can be art
You may have noticed that we are living in unprecedented times. The impact of climate change is irreversible; the world is literally burning. Nazis are alarmingly abundant and fascism is once again on the rise. A global pandemic that rocked the globe is swiftly becoming endemic, while the threat of a new pandemic looms.
It’s a lot for any human brain to wrap around and little wonder that anxiety and depression are rampant. The options seem to be to numb out, throw yourself into every possible cause until you burn out, or go into a nihilist downward spiral or retreat so far into denial you become one of the aforementioned Nazis. It’s not great.
But of course there are more options. I have found many ways to cope and even, incredibly, find pockets of joy. I deleted facebook, restrict my time on other forms of social media, and only engage in online spaces when I make time to, rather than as a way to pass time or feed my dopamine seeking brain. I choose not to finish books that I’m not enjoying, and I’ve discovered the pleasure of videogames as a playful escape. I have also thrown myself into my writing and art.
In 2021 I began to intentionally approach my writing and art with an anti-capitalist lens. For years my creativity has suffered because of the bombardment of messages that for something to be good, it must be valuable according to capitalist definitions. Despite knowing such measures are determined according to white supremacy, patriarchy, ableism and so on, it’s truly challenging to trust that my work is valuable regardless of what capitalism says.
When I was working on my rakusu, not one aspect of the project was defined by capitalism. I was not doing it to create something to sell. I didn’t feel the need to capture the process and share it through Instagram to “build a personal brand” and “grow an audience.” I didn’t do it so I could mass produce rakusus. I did it to be present, to contemplate a lineage, and to come to a deeper understanding of my commitment to collective liberation.
It was with this in mind that I began working on a denim vest. I knew I needed somewhere to rest my attention in the midst of the chaos of the external world and the reality of my own personal circumstances. The only thing I knew for sure about the project when I started it was that I wanted to incorporate the final line from Upaya’s closing chant of the day: Do not squander your life.
From the first time I heard this line, I had fallen in love with it. Every time I hear it, it lands in my gut and heart, reminding me of another teaching I’ve held dear since early in my dharma practice:
If death is certain and the time until death is uncertain, what is the most important thing?
“Do not squander your life” is a distillation of this wisdom; it is a pointed reminder of our mortality and the preciousness of our human birth.
And so I sketched out a skull and some text on the back of the vest. I chose to use a vanishing ink, which would fade quickly over a matter of days, forcing me to commit to coming back to work on the vest every day, regardless of what was going on.1
As I painted in the skull, I decided I would also incorporate embroidery into the piece. I transferred line drawings of peonies and began to outline them in thread, I also started to search for patches and pins to adorn the rest of it. When I went on this hunt, I did so with deliberation and clear intention.
Each item I chose, I chose because it aligned with a way in which I was not squandering my life. I sought out fellow artists, screenprinters, and designers2 who showed their commitment to our collective liberation in the slogans they put to cloth and enamel. I thought of the many forms my activism has taken, the ways to represent my commitment to queer and trans liberation, to disability justice, to decolonization and anti-racism.
With my own art filling the back of the vest, I began the process of adding art from other folks, turning it into a collective project by proxy. I had no sense of the time it would take and was grateful there wasn’t a deadline. I was simply present with each patch, each stitch, each added detail. This was when my partner began to refer to it as my Punk Rakusu.
For weeks, and eventually months, this was my primary practice. Every day I would spend at least twenty minutes, more often an hour, in a meditative calm, incorporating all the pieces of my path into the vest. Every minute spent on this vest has been an act of anti-Capitalism and solidarity, as much as it’s been a reminder of my own intentions and aspirations.
And now, apparently, it is complete.
If you want to grapple with impermanence in real time, use disappearing ink for any fibre art project you are working on.
Support disabled, trans, two-spirit, intersex, queer, Black & Indigenous creators and artists! Massive thanks to the following fabulous humans for putting their work out into the world:
Whess Harmon for their fab LandBack patch design, Dazen AKA ZombieRufio for the brilliant Decolonise Ur Mind patch (They also make excellent kink items), GiraffeCatCo for their adorbs take on ACAB and a rainbow kitty, Erik of Abprallen for delightfully spooky pastel pins celebrating queer and trans liberation, Sam Martin of Chronically Divine for their perfectly fitting Spooniecorn pin, Al at Prideful Patches for a cute little bee and a rainbow outlined raised fist, Mason Slay of Slayshop for a HECK of a lot of cheeky, spicy, unapologetic patches, Margaux of Retrophiliac for the pointed Disability Justice patches, Chaos Creations for their extremely punk anti-rainbow capitalism patch, Linnea Nierman for her ode to how punk possoms are, and how much punks love possoms, Connie Collingsworth of Butch & Sissy for the classic Lavender Menace patch, Slappy’s Closet for the socialist pins and a replacement Queer’s Bash Back pin that brings me nostalgic joy, Ana of Celestial Fox for a charming little Spoonie pin, Emily Lopuch of Riddle & Jinx for the nod to Octavia Butler’s genius and BLM with pins, and some decolonialism in patch-form, Pidgeon Pagonis for Too Cute To Be Binary, Nicole Manganelli of Radical Emprints for the anti-capitalist love notes, Jenn Harkness AKA Skipper Jenn for introducing me to the aforementioned love notes and for her own adorable rainbow farting buttons, Daniel Quasar for the Progress Pride flag design, Lindsay Ellis and Natalie Winn for their mock Internet rivalry and cheeky pins, and Shannon Downey AKA Badass Cross Stitch for teaching me how to embroider.
(Please follow those links and check out their shops and support their work! Also, apologies if I missed someone—if you spot something in the images that doesn’t have a corresponding store link, please let me know!)
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