Exhibition celebrates craft and creativity during COVID-19 crisis

Living Well | Blanche Clark | Posted on 08 July 2020

Online exhibition celebrates a renewed appreciation for the handmade and heartfelt during the pandemic.

Its ears are lopsided and the seams gape around its feet, but there’s love in every stitch of embroiderer Susan McBratney’s felt bunny.

The 61-year-old stuffed toy is one of more than 70 objects celebrating heirlooms, tools and much-loved curiosities in the Craft Victoria online exhibition, The Meaning of Things.

Cyrus Tang, Momentary Gleam 2010. Hair (89 metres), crystal. Collection of the artist. Photography by Michael Pham, at the Objects of Love exhibition opening.

Cyrus Tang, Momentary Gleam 2010. Hair (89 metres), crystal. Collection of the artist. Photography by Michael Pham, at the Objects of Love exhibition opening.


Susan, who is a member of the Victorian Embroiderers Guild, made the stuffed toy for her father in 1959, when he left the UK for Australia “to see if it was a good place to bring a family”. “It was, and the rest of us followed in 1960 as 10-pound Poms!” Susan explains in her artist statement.

“He kept it for years, and I cannot recall when I got it back, perhaps when I had my own children in the ’70s, though they were never allowed to play with it.”

The exhibition features objects as diverse as a wedding ring, stamp collection, hand saw, tea cup, needle case and Ba-gurrk Kunawarra Djirrburnin (women’s black swan ceremonial skirt), representing themes such as family, hope, love, nostalgia and travel. (More: Five easy craft projects to tackle in a weekend)

Craft Victoria director Bryony Nainby says craft is having a resurgence and the organisation has received a trove of treasured pieces after calling for submissions at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it’s a time of real reflection around what things are meaningful for people in their lives,” Bryony says.

She says artist Kate Just, whose abstract hand-sewn quilt is part of another Craft Victoria exhibition, Objects of Love, set up the “Covid19quilt” account on Instagram in April and thousands of images have been submitted from all around the world.

“People have talked about what they’ve been making and why, what they’ve been thinking about and why it has been important to express it through craft; it’s quite moving,” Bryony says. 

Demand to buy handmade objects has also increased during COVID restrictions

“People have wanted to buy things like handcrafted whisky glasses because they can’t go out to drink, so they want something beautiful to drink out of every day at home,” she says.

Craft Victoria’s exhibitions also showcase artists whose work demonstrates astonishing imagination, skill and labour.

Kate Just, In the mood for love 2019. Hand and machine-stitched brocade fabric. Photography by Michael Pham, at the Objects of Love exhibition opening.

Kate Just, In the mood for love 2019. Hand and machine-stitched brocade fabric. Photography by Michael Pham, at the Objects of Love exhibition opening.


Zaiba Khan, Subhanallah, Alhamdulillah, Allahuakbar 2018 (tasbih [prayer beads], to proclaim the divine 100 times over). Date seeds, silver, hair. Courtesy the artist.

Zaiba Khan, Subhanallah, Alhamdulillah, Allahuakbar 2018 (tasbih [prayer beads], to proclaim the divine 100 times over). Date seeds, silver, hair. Courtesy the artist.


The Meaning of Things, Felt Bunny. 10 centimetres, handmade. Submitted by Susan McBratney.

Susan McBratney, Felt Bunny. 10 centimetres, handmade, from Craft Victoria's online exhibition, The Meaning of Things. Submitted by the artist.


In the Objects of Love exhibition, which can be viewed online as a virtual tour, Hong-Kong born Cyrus Tang has used human hair and crystals to create her work, Momentary Gleam 2008, as a way of preserving her memories of her family after moving to Melbourne.

“She asked her family to send strands of their hair over a couple of years, which she wove together into this single 89-metre strand of hair,” Bryony says. “She has then grown crystals on it, to try to embed the emotions and attachment of her family into the hair.”

The extraordinary installation is suspended from the ceiling of the gallery, falls down on to a large plinth and coils around in a spiral. “It is such an incredible labour of love to create this piece and people are moved by it when they come to the exhibition,” Bryony says. 

Equally intriguing is Zaiba Khan’s work Subhanallah, Alhamdulillah, Allahuakbar 2018. Zaiba has transformed the seeds of dates (collected from her family breaking their fast together in Ramadan) into prayer beads, inlaying them with silver and creating a tassel from the hair of female family members.

Bryony says people who are interested in becoming more serious about their craft can become Craft Victoria members. 

“We have just launched a big festival for later this year and people might want to participate in that,” she says. 

Craft Victoria’s The Objects of Love exhibition runs until 18 July. The Meaning of Things is online until 18 July, then will be accessible as an online archive for the rest of the year.

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