Sue Scott Gallery

Yo Mama

Sabrina Gschwandtner
Interweave Knits, October 2019

When artist Sheila Pepe hung a large pink, red, and purple oval-shaped textile in the gallery at Naomi Arin Contemporary Art in Las Vegas, the form actually astonished residents of Sin City, where images of naked women are commonplace.  “Is that what I think it is?” the artist was continually asked.  Her reply was always the same: “Yes, it’s a big vagina.”  


Well-known for creating handmade feminist installations, Pepe crafted her exhibition, titled Yo Mama, as a way of “bringing old Vegas back…you know, the grungy.”  Choosing crocheted and knitted yarn to provoke questions about eroticism, sexuality, culture, and women’s history, Pepe wanted to connect her work to both feminist art and hobby craft.  In a nod to Judy Chicago’s iconic collaborative work The Dinner Party (1974-1979), Pepe invited knitters across the country to participate.  She invented a stitch-count code through which knitters could embed their names and the names of their mothers and grandmothers into knitted lengths.  These matrilineal symbols were crocheted into the installation, and when the show closed, they were returned to the knitters.  

For another exhibition, at an experimental art space test site in Austin, Texas, Pepe pursued a different kind of fiber participation.  She invited people to undo her massive crocheted installation and use the yarn to knit items for their own use.   And for an upcoming shoe at the University of Massachusetts Boston, Pepe will offer gallery-goers a similar “knitting away” experience.  Through her work will be physically dismantled; her themes of community and connection will be re-created in new forms.