Born 1974, Hartford, US. Lives and works on Wurundjeri/Boon Wurrung Country, Narrm (Melbourne)
Kate Just works across sculpture, installation, neon, textiles and photography but is best known for her inventive and political use of knitting. She often works collaboratively within communities to create large-scale public art projects that tackle significant social issues including sexual harassment and violence against women. Just has exhibited extensively across Australia and internationally, and has undertaken artistic residencies in New York, Vienna, Beijing, Tokyo, Barcelona and New Delhi. She holds a PhD in Sculpture and is Head of the Master of Contemporary Arts program at the Victorian College of the Arts.
Photograph: Ilona Nelson
Image courtesy and © the artist
by Megan Robson
Melbourne-based artist Kate Just is best known for her contemporary use of traditional craft practices, such as knitting and sewing, to explore female and queer experiences and representation.
Anonymous was a Woman (2019–21) is an ambitious, large-scale knitting project that reflects on the silencing of women’s voices and achievements throughout history. The piece consists of over 140 wall-mounted, multicoloured knitted square panels, each inscribed with the text: ‘Anonymous was a woman.’ The phrase is an adaptation of a quote by Virginia Woolf from her influential feminist text A Room of One’s Own (1928). Each piece has taken Just around 25 hours to hand knit and consists of over 17,000 stitches. In the gallery, where the work is displayed in a grid-like pattern, the individual panels are reminiscent of a memorial or a display of historical commemorative plaques.
For Just, the project has been all-consuming: ‘carried and produced’ at home, at work and on public transport. The artist will perform the knitting of the final 12 panels in the Museum of Contemporary Art galleries, and audiences are invited to join Just in conversation or bring their own handcrafts to work in solidarity. Anonymous was a Woman is not simply about drawing attention to the erasure of female artists from the canon; it also draws on Just’s experiences as a mother, teacher and partner, and wider conversations around women’s hidden labour. Anonymous was a Woman is then an ‘act of resistance against anonymity and invisibility’ – a public refusal to accept the role that history has created for women, a ‘way of saying I refuse this’. (1)
Alongside the solo endurance project Anonymous was a Woman, Just exhibits a new community work, @covid19quilt (2020–ongoing), that considers the way in which groups of predominately women have come together to ‘narrate their histories through craft’. (2)
In April 2020, Just, together with collaborator Tal Fitzpatrick, posted onto the social media platform Instagram an open invitation for ‘anyone of any age’ to share an image of a textile artwork and a small written text based on their experiences of COVID-19. @covid19quilt is a community-driven textile-based art project that uses the gridded design of Instagram to create a digital quilt reflecting the ‘diverse personal and global challenges’ to the global pandemic faced by a growing network of international contributors. The project was instigated through a series of conversations between Just and Fitzpatrick about how ‘craft could address the pandemic’.
To date over 515 submissions have been received from about 26 countries. Contributors include professional artists, skilled amateurs and first-time crafters working across a range of techniques from embroidery and hand sewing to cross-stich and knitting. Over the course of 2020 and into 2021, the project has traced the wider socio-political impact of COVID-19 as participants reflect on broader issues and systematic inequalities highlighted, intersected and/or exasperated by the pandemic, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, domestic violence, wealth distribution and healthcare access.
In this way, the COVID-19 Global Quilt project continues a legacy of community-based craft memorial and activist projects such as the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt (1987–ongoing) and The Monument Quilt (2019–ongoing) that foreground individual stories, lives and experiences by a broad range of contributors. As Just notes, projects such as @covid19quilt provide important platforms that value and recognise the creative contributions of ‘non-artists’; and enable participants to communicate ‘their own truth’ in a public space. (2)
(2) Email conversation with the artist, 10 Mar 2021.
(3) Kate Just quoted in The Global COVID-19 Quilt Project Webinar, 6 Nov 2020, at unimelb.edu.au/home/news-events/past-events/covid19quilt-project, accessed 17 Feb 2021.
Kate Just is represented by Hugo Michell Gallery (Adelaide) and Finkelstein Gallery (Melbourne).
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body; CoVA (The Centre for Visual Arts) at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne; Art OMI Australian Artists Committee, and Art OMI residency in Ghent, New York.
The artist thanks Paula Russell, MaryEllen Just, Pat Russell, @covid19quilt collaborator Tal Fitzpatrick, Rachel Kent, Lisa Fehily, Hugo Michell, and her fellow artists in residence at Art Omi, New York (2019).