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Brisbane artist questions gender norms with NSFW cross stitch

Or should I say, cross tits.

Australian artist Leah Emery subverts the male gaze and normalises intimacy by combining two unlikely things: cross stitch and vintage pornography.

It’s an odd but brilliant pairing. Emery, who is based out of Brisbane, takes something masculine – like porn – and turns it into feminist art using a traditionally feminine medium – embroidery.

Her latest series using this technique, entitled Animal Queendom, gives voice to the female species by hitting at society’s use of male pronouns. She told Lost At E Minor:

“I’m very conscious of our tendency to default to male pronouns, and I’ve always defaulted to female or neutral pronouns with my girls to reprogram their way of interacting with gender. Enduring terms like ‘kingdom’ annoy me, so in the interests of rejecting our historical relationship with hierarchy, I’ve repositioned our intersection in the animal world.

“This is an attempt at offering girls an improved narrative while they’re shaping their little mental destinies, and offer them the full gamut of life’s possibilities from day one.”

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FINALLY! Animal Queendom 1 is alive and destined for @michaelreidsydney in November! . . . . #giraffe #animal #animalqueendom #crossstitch #crossstitching #stitching #stitchlife #embroidery #embroideryart #crossstitchart #pornart #pornographic #eroticart #erotica #leahemeryart #fiberart #feministart #feminist #crossstitchersofinstagram #australianart #brisbaneart #australianartist #brisbaneartist #art #xstitch #xstitching #subversivecrossstitch #moderncrossstitch #needlecraft #fuckyeahembroidery

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The series also seeks to normalise intimacy by featuring different animals unfazed by the X-rated acts happening in front of them.

“The animals are looking nonplussed as domestic pornographic scenes play out in the foreground. These scenes act as a voyeuristic invitation to join my quest to normalise public discussion surrounding topics of sexual intimacy,” she added.

We recently caught up with Emery to know more about her titillating series, Animal Queendom.

Tell us a little about your background – what path led you to becoming an artist, and to doing what you’re doing today?

“After completing a very useful Bachelor of Arts undergrad degree, with a double major in Russian, I ended up becoming a self-taught 3D modeller in video game development.

“During that time some particularly explicit spam emails found their way to my work inbox. At the time I was obsessively possessed by drawing and collage as well as my digital art, and was forever gathering fodder to fuel my projects.

“When I had the revelation that a beautifully discordant way to explore the unsolicited images was through cross stitch the concept took on a life of its own. It was such a perfectly chaotic fit. I set about learning how to cross stitch and it became a great way to explore not only my own response to being presented with unsolicited pornography but also a subsequent exploration into the impact of exposure to sexual imagery in general.

“It’s been useful as an exercise to allow me to delve into exploring the big bad world of readily available smut through a beautiful and intricate means, and continues to amuse and bemuse me.”

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Hanging out with friends. At 3 in the morning… . . . #animalqueendom #crossstitch #crossstitching #stitching #stitchlife #embroidery #embroideryart #crossstitchart #pornart #pornographic #eroticart #erotica #leahemeryart #fiberart #feministart #feminist #textileart #crossstitchersofinstagram #australianart #brisbaneart #australianartist #brisart #brisbaneartist #art #hoopart #xstitch #xstitching #subversivecrossstitch #moderncrossstitch #fuckyeahembroidery

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How would you describe your work?

“My practice is largely crafted through the deliciously textural and time consuming medium of cross stitch to explore topics of body image, sexual liberty, feminist concerns such as the gender divide and visibility through collaged pornographic compositions. By forcing these two seemingly disparate worlds together I create an intriguing and bemusing interaction of subject and medium.

“I use my works to protest the cultural etiquette of withholding healthy public access on topics surrounding sex and intimacy despite being so quintessential to the human experience; while simultaneously cultural tendencies promote and reward an unhealthy manipulated, homogenised aesthetic.

“This exploration of antitheses is composed of doctored panels of vintage imagery, sequential film stills or silhouetted coital couples, crudely liberated from the distraction of background encumbrance, isolated in the spotlight of their revelry. The viewer is forced to identify and confront their own relationship to the topics under discussion.”

Let’s talk about your new exhibition, Animal Queendom. What was the inspiration behind it?

“From the title you can probably tell it hints at a reclamation of female entitlement, as well as a tip of the hat to the non-CIS world.

“In some works, I’ve paired a wild animal in the periphery of scenes of human carnality as an acknowledgement of sexuality as an intrinsic component of our communal endeavours. The animals are looking nonplussed as domestic pornographic scenes play out in the foreground. These scenes act as a voyeuristic invitation to join my quest to normalise public discussion surrounding topics of sexual intimacy.

“In other works, I’ve perched birds on top of the climaxing women from vintage pornography, who are the females of bird species notorious for males with extravagant plumage whose primary function is to put on a brassy show to demand attention.

“I’ve always harboured a sense of sorrow and sympathy for the females of these species as their plight and very existence is overlooked in favour of their loud, showy counterparts. These works are an evocative demand for attention for those who are overshadowed by those whose voices are louder.”

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Leah Emery Animal Queendom is our current exhibition and includes Animal Queendom #2, Leopard 2018. I am attending the gallery today so drop in. Saturday hours 11-5 . . . #artoftheday #leahemery @leahemeryart #crossstitch #artadvisor #artconsultant #artadvisory #michaelreidsydney

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Can you give us a little insight into your creative process?

“My current work involves a heavy set up phase where I Photoshop my digital construction for several days until I’m ready to start generating a pattern I’ll end up stitching from. I like to use isolated shapes such as fruit or thick font words, and morph pornographic imagery within the confines of the silhouette.

“Once I’m ready to stitch, the fun begins, and I get excited about hitting the blank canvas like an artist who practices in any other medium. The rest of it is largely grunt work, but is extremely meditative and it’s hard not to fall in love with the process of stitching.”

Is there a theme/message/statement that Animal Queendom is trying to impart to its audience?

“I’m very conscious of our tendency to default to male pronouns, and I’ve always defaulted to female or neutral pronouns with my girls to reprogram their way of interacting with gender. Enduring terms like ‘kingdom’ annoy me, so in the interests of rejecting our historical relationship with hierarchy, I’ve repositioned our intersection in the animal world.

“This is an attempt at offering girls an improved narrative while they’re shaping their little mental destinies, and offer them the full gamut of life’s possibilities from day one.

“I use material from all ilk of sexual spectrums, and acknowledge that I could do so even more often. Who wants to participate in a boring, dangerous world that exclusively promotes young, white, CIS themes? Hopefully one day soon, the answer will be ‘no one’.”

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Mock up + final image = #animalqueendom . Big fat thanks to @simone.eclair and @abelframing for helping me limp to the finish line 💚 . . . #crossstitch #crossstitching #stitching #stitchlife #embroidery #embroideryart #crossstitchart #pornart #pornographic #eroticart #erotica #leahemeryart #fiberart #feministart #feminist #crossstitchersofinstagram #australianart #brisbaneart #australianartist #brisart #brisbaneartist #art #xstitch #xstitching #subversivecrossstitch #moderncrossstitch #needlecraft #handmaderevolution #fuckyeahembroidery

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What should viewers expect to see at the current exhibition at Michael Reid Gallery?

“I conduct a lot of my art practice by conveying difficult content that’s wrapped in whimsy, as that’s how I find confronting topics easier to digest and engage with. Animal Queendom covers human and feminist concerns packaged in an endearing tongue in cheek fashion in the hope to lure people in to conduct a frank discussion with themselves by offering a soft entrance to difficult to digest topics.”

Leah Emery’s series Animal Queendom is on display at Michael Reid Gallery in Sydney until December 1. You can learn more about the exhibit here.

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