I never imagined that I would become an embroidery artist. In prior lives I worked in cut paper, collage, linocuts, and mixed media. These mediums, like embroidery, require precision, so perhaps I haven’t strayed too far from my previous interests. When I moved to New Haven to pursue my doctoral studies in 2009, I had decided that I wouldn’t have time to pursue a creative practice while in graduate school. I suffered severe depression as a result. After reading Ann Cvetkovich’s Depression: A Public Feeling, in which she describes finding her way through debilitating mental illness through crafting (especially textile arts), and after receiving a small cross-stitch kit as a stocking stuffer from a friend, I picked up embroidery and haven’t looked back. That was four years ago.
I love needlework and textile/fabric art because of its long association with women’s work. My great grandmothers embroidered, my mother embroidered in the 70s, and nearly every group of people on earth has an embroidery tradition that helps define its cultural parameters. The role of embroidery art in the queer art world feels like a powerful reckoning of that heritage and genealogy.
While I love representational work and definitely make pieces of identifiable “things” or bodies, more generally my work is a celebration of excessiveness in the abstract. As a lesbian, feminist, and certainly as a precocious adolescent and young adult, my “too muchness” was often leveled against me by my family, teachers, and other authority figures. My excessive tendencies and my attempts to dull them eventually took the shape of alcoholism and other self-destructive behaviors. When I found embroidery, I finally and truly entered a real period of recovery for the first time in my life.
Embroidery, for me, is hyper-vigilant and obsessive. I push the boundaries of my “too muchness” in my pieces to provide a creative outlet for otherwise inwardly damaging impulses. The pieces in this exhibit explore different sides of that compulsion to act and think repetitively; if the clichéd definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again expecting different results, my embroidery allows me to push through my depression, anxiety, and obsessive tendencies by doing the same thing over and over again—stitching—with vastly different results. Each piece is a contemplation on family history and the interior landscapes of queer desire and existence, on substance abuse and the production and performance of knowledge in its many forms, and on the genealogies I’ve forged for myself as a person deeply moved by language and music.
Michelle Beaulieu-Morgan was born and raised in rural Maine and lives in New Haven, CT, where she finished her PhD in American Studies at Yale in 2017. She is the Digital Accessibility Specialist at Yale, where she works with faculty and staff to develop and create more accessible course materials for students with disabilities. When she isn’t embroidering, she is working on two series of essays: one on the intersection of queerness, working-class identity, childhood, and music, and the other on the long history of lesbians and sex workers in her French-Canadian family. Her work has been featured in several essays and exhibitions, both on- and off-line. Most recently, she was commissioned by Grammy award–winning blues musician Keb’ Mo’ to create the artwork for his album Oklahoma and its affiliated tour merchandise. You can follow her work under her Instagram handle, @mutuallyassureddeconstruction.