Bringing back the (unsung) art of embroidery, Hannah Hill tackles issues of racism, mental health, body positivity and sexuality in her detailed stitching. Offering miniature, witty designs that pack a punch, the outspoken designer—who works under the alias Hanecdote—tells us all how it really is with her needlepoint mastery.
How would you describe your work in one short sentence?
Bold, illustrative, embroidery that packs a punch.
Would you describe your work as political?
Most of my work has been autobiographical, until recently, when I started referencing and researching historical art as a framework to make more bold statements. The art I connect with usually has some kind of socio-political context, and it’s important for me as an artist to spread a message through an already political medium such as embroidery. In exploring my identity and beliefs, it all combines seamlessly to make work that stands for something.
What do borders mean to you? Do they limit you in any way?
As a mixed race child of an immigrant from Guyana (who came to England), the idea of borders is something which subtly runs through a lot of my deep feelings about identity. Guyana was a British Colony, without colonialism I wouldn’t exist, nor would my mum or her family. Recently, at the Artist and Empire exhibition at Tate Britain, Guyana (a usually unknown country) was shown in lots of maps and as I took some pictures I was told that I wasn’t allowed to. This upset and angered me; those maps and artifacts are as much a part of my history as they are of the British Empire. Thinking in a wider sense, no human being should be illegal. The heinous Muslim Ban being imposed by Trump fills me with fear and dread.
How much do you think you are affected by Border Politics?
My grandparents on both sides of my family moved to London for a better life or because they fell in love with the city, so I have a real appreciation for growing up here. I believe I’ve grown up an open-hearted person because of the diversity and multiculturalism I have been surrounded by people from all walks of life, through meeting, learning from and growing up with them. Something I’ve been thinking about lately is gentrification and the people who are being pushed out of their homes and businesses because of ridiculous rent/house prices in London. A lot of the time, young people and immigrants are affected most by this. After Brexit and the increase of hate crimes, Islamophobia and xenophobia, it’s hard to feel like you belong here, and most of my peers feel hopeless and kind of alone on this island.
Does your cultural identity impact your work—if so, how?
My cultural identity is extremely tied to my feelings about myself and where I belong in the world. Ancestrally, my family are from India, but Guyana is more similar to the West Indies culturally, and so I’ve grown up even a step further away from that in London; I really feel a deep disconnect. Unfortunately within my family there is some distance so I’m still discovering and learning what cultural identity means to me. I’m grateful to be a visual artist, I am able to freely explore these complex, emotional issues in a way that is healing, especially because there is a rich history of textiles in India.
What are your thoughts on cultural appreciation versus cultural appropriation?
I think there’s a fine line especially when it comes to intent, purpose and profit. The main thing I think about is, a lot of the time, people take elements of a culture completely out of context and butcher the meanings or significance. Often these particular cultural items are things that people have been ridiculed for for years, while trying to exist and thrive in a country other than their homeland. When people outside of that try to make cultural items or customs fashionable and cool, while ignoring the roots and still contributing to the oppression of that group, that’s where it becomes appropriation and disrespectful. There have been loads of examples of big corporations making money from items with cultural significance, while the people belonging to those cultures are disenfranchised and oppressed, whether that’s immigrants in the West or people worldwide in their homelands.
What do you stand for?
I stand for equality. So many things are wrong with the world, and I want to do my best to contribute as little pain and hurt as possible. Through my art I want to uplift people of colour, people with disabilities and represent sexuality, different body types and gender expression. I want more people to feel loved, appreciated and like they belong in the world.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
Sometimes thinking too far into the future doesn’t work well, especially when I deal with the highs and lows of mental illness. I can say I’m excited to see my hard work starting to pay off with amazing opportunities and connections being made, and I hope to keep up this momentum after I graduate. I hope to have a solo show in London and New York this year, lots of planning to be done for both but it’s exciting to finally feel like I want to showcase my work! One day in the future I would love to have a 420 friendly gallery/studio/cafe/shop space, and I hope to always be an artist and activist.